Ultimate Physical Therapy Career Guide

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy, in its most basic form, provides services to aid in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function of the human body.  Physical therapy, or PT for short, is a profession with deep scientific roots layered with practical, conventional, and theoretical applications bent on optimizing and maximizing quality of life.  As you can imagine, this involves a holistic approach to clients that include such aspects as emotional, psychological, physical, and social well-being.

Physical therapists work with individuals of all ages who have health limitations or medical conditions limiting movement.  It is incumbent upon a physical therapist to closely examine each patient and develop a treatment plan to promote pain-free movement, improved mobility, restoration, and/or a disability prevention program.  The disability prevention program is a form of preventative maintenance plan to help thwart physical and mental degradation through a comprehensive fitness and wellness roadmap.

Do Physical Therapists Require Training?

Physical therapy or physiotherapy can only be administered by trained physical therapists or by physical therapist assistants (PTA) supervised by a physical therapist.  Physical therapists play vital roles in the development of health care policy to ensure availability, accessibility, and optimal delivery of health care services.

A physical therapist may be asked to evaluate clinical examination data to establish diagnoses, prognoses, and plans of care for a patient or group of patients.  Physical therapists examine patients and craft an intensive care plan to aid movement, reduce pain, and restore proper body function.

The physical therapist and/or physical therapist assistant will work closely with the patient in conjunction with a variety of related health care providers to ensure the care plan is implemented efficiently to achieve optimal results.

Popular Treatment Plans of Physical Therapists

Physical therapist treatment involves a combination of therapeutic exercise and functional training.  The precise method of treatment will depend on the specific needs of a patient or client coupled with their unique goals and timeframe.  Physical therapists have a number of treatment methods at their dispose such as: ultrasound, stationary bicycles, electrotherapy, exercise machines, ice, and hot packs depending on the nature of the therapy.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Physical therapist responsibilities include examination, diagnosis, creation, implementation, and management of a patient’s care plan.  In physical therapy, patients undergo a battery of examinations that may include: joint flexibility, testing of muscle function, strength, balance, coordination, range of motion, posture, motor function, respiration, skin integrity, quality of life, and other pertinent daily activities.

Physical therapists may be asked to evaluate a patient to determine the possibility of reintegration back into the workforce or community at-large at the completion of the treatment plan.

After the examination is complete and the patient diagnosis has been confirmed, the physical therapist generates a care plan that may include a variety of targeted exercises, manual therapy, traction, ultrasound, electrotherapy, motor learning, and vestibular training along with patient & family education.

Interventions may require the use of assistive and adaptive devices like wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, and orthotics. Physical therapists help coach patients on proper ways to move or perform particular activities in an effort to prevent further injury while involving them in approved daily activities often known as a patient management plan.

Top Careers in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is delivered in a variety of settings depending on the location, nature of therapy, population density, services offered, and areas of specialization needed.  Prevention, health promotion, treatment, intervention, and rehabilitation therapy may take place in multiple settings including the following:

Community-based rehabilitation programs - physical therapy is provided to patients who have been admitted to a hospital offering both medical and rehabilitation care.

Research centers – a variety of new therapeutic techniques are discovered and taught to others while providing necessary physical therapy to patients.

Schools - physical therapist and/or physical therapist assistants visit a preschool, primary, or secondary school to provide on-site therapy to students.

Fitness clubs, health clubs, and spas- physical therapy is provided to clients with a focus on techniques to maintain good health, strength, and conditioning.

Hospice centers - physical therapy is delivered to patients suffering incurable disease to enable them maintain functional abilities and manage pain during their stay at the hospice center.

Nursing homes – a variety of physical therapy techniques are provided to aging people.

Occupational health centers - physical therapy is provided to clients for a variety of ailments and disabilities.

Community settings including primary health care centers, individual homes, and field settings

Hospitals - physical therapy is provided to patients that are admitted to a hospital that delivers both medical and rehabilitation care.

Out-patient clinics - physical therapy is provided to patients that require medical and rehabilitation care.

Prisons - physical therapy is provided to inmates as part of a pre-existing care plan.

Rehabilitation centers -  emphasis is placed on clients returning to a normal state of activity through targeted physical therapy treatment plans.

Senior citizen centers - physical therapy is provided to clients to help sustain mobility, enhance the quality of life, and ease discomfort  .

Workplaces  - physical therapy is provided to employees through an approved employer plan with a focus on techniques to maintain good health.

Public settings – a physical therapist may be placed in a public setting such as a shopping mall to promote health and help treat patients.

Most Common Conditions Treated by Physical Therapists

Please see below for a list of conditions treated by physical therapists and physical therapist assistants around the country:

Arthritis, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), stroke, balance, hand injuries, incontinence, back pain, rotator cuff pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, burns, developmental delays, concussion, tennis elbow, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), headaches, pelvic pain, sports injuries, dislocations, Lymphedema, fractures, and osteoporosis to name a few.

Why Choose a Physical Therapy Career?

Becoming a physical therapist can have myriad tangible and intangible benefits worth exploring.  First, many physical therapists talk about making a difference in the lives of others.  Having a direct impact on the health and well-being of others can be immensely rewarding, therefore reinforcing the feeling of making a positive difference.

Next, current physical therapists enjoy having mastery or expertise in their field of study.  In other words, there is a great sense of satisfaction to be an expert on movement.  It is from this well-spring of knowledge that PT’s are able to quickly recognize issues, establish a plan, and help manage that plan for the benefit of patients.

Another benefit of becoming a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant is job security.  The ever-increasing need for physical therapists could be a combination of a more health-conscious clustering of people plus access to quality insurance coupled with an aging population.  In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the growth rate of physical therapists to be at 34% through year 2024 which is nearly 5 times faster than the national composite growth rate of all occupations.

The physical therapy sector also lends itself nicely for entrepreneurs.  Given the nature of specialization, mobility, and industry stability it should come as no surprise that nearly 25% of physical therapists are partners or owners in a physical therapy practice.

Top Physical Therapy Colleges by State

To help you quickly find physical therapy colleges in your state, we have organized a set of resources clustered by area.  The list below represents the states with at least five accredited colleges offering physical therapy degree programs.  Alternatively, you can search for a full list of PT degree programs and colleges offering physical therapy by leveraging our degree search platform.

New York
North Carolina


For additional resources, make sure to visit our physical therapy and physical therapy assistant degree portals to learn more about each career pathway.  A full list of top ranked PT colleges and the best PT degree for you can be found by searching manually or with our degree finder.

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