Physical therapists provide services that help restore function, improve
mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of
patients suffering from injuries or disease. They restore, maintain, and promote
overall fitness and health. Their patients include accident victims and
individuals with disabling conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, heart
disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.
Therapists examine patients’ medical histories and then test and measure the
patients’ strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle
performance, respiration, and motor function. They also determine patients’
ability to be independent and reintegrate into the community or workplace after
injury or illness. Next, physical therapists develop plans describing a
treatment strategy, its purpose, and its anticipated outcome. Physical therapist
assistants, under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist, may be
involved in implementing treatment plans with patients. Physical therapist aides
perform routine support tasks, as directed by the therapist. (Physical therapist
assistants and aides are discussed at the end of this section.)
Treatment often includes exercise for patients who have been immobilized and
lack flexibility, strength, or endurance. Physical therapists encourage patients
to use their own muscles to increase their flexibility and range of motion
before finally advancing to other exercises that improve strength, balance,
coordination, and endurance. The goal is to improve how an individual functions
at work and at home.
Physical therapists also use electrical stimulation, hot packs or cold
compresses, and ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce swelling. They may use
traction or deep-tissue massage to relieve pain. Therapists also teach patients
to use assistive and adaptive devices, such as crutches, prostheses, and
wheelchairs. They also may show patients exercises to do at home to expedite
As treatment continues, physical therapists document the patient’s progress,
conduct periodic examinations, and modify treatments when necessary. Besides
tracking the patient’s progress, such documentation identifies areas requiring
more or less attention.
Physical therapists often consult and practice with a variety of other
professionals, such as physicians, dentists, nurses, educators, social workers,
occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists.
Some physical therapists treat a wide range of ailments; others specialize in
areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports medicine, neurology,
and cardiopulmonary physical therapy.
Physical therapists practice in hospitals, clinics, and private offices that
have specially equipped facilities, or they treat patients in hospital rooms,
homes, or schools.
In 2004, most full-time physical therapists worked a 40-hour week; some worked
evenings and weekends to fit their patients’ schedules. About 1 in 4 physical
therapists worked part time. The job can be physically demanding because
therapists often have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods.
In addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients or help
them turn, stand, or walk.
Physical therapists held about 155,000 jobs in 2004. The number of jobs is
greater than the number of practicing physical therapists, because some physical
therapists hold two or more jobs. Some may work in a private practice, but also
work part time in another health care facility.
Nearly 6 out of 10 physical therapists worked in hospitals or in offices of
physical therapists. Other jobs were in home health care services, nursing care,
outpatient care centers, and physician offices.
Some physical therapists were self-employed in private practices, seeing
individual patients and contracting to provide services in hospitals,
rehabilitation centers, nursing care facilities, home health care agencies,
adult day care programs, and schools. Physical therapists also teach in academic
institutions and conduct research.
All states require physical therapists to pass a licensure exam before they
can practice, after graduating from an accredited physical therapist educational
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there were 205
accredited physical therapist programs in 2004. Of the ac-credited programs, 94
offered master’s degrees, and 111 offered doctoral degrees. All physical
therapist programs seeking accreditation are required to offer degrees at the
master’s degree level and above, in accordance with the Commission on
Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
Physical therapist programs start with basic science courses such as biology,
chemistry, and physics and then introduce specialized courses, including
biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of
disease, examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures. Besides getting
classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical
experience. Among the courses that are useful when one applies to a physical
therapist educational program are anatomy, biology, chemistry, social science,
mathematics, and physics. Before granting admission, many professional education
programs require experience as a volunteer in a physical therapy department of
a hospital or clinic. For high school students, volunteering with the school
athletic trainer is a good way to gain experience.
Physical therapists should have strong interpersonal skills in order to be
able to educate patients about their physical therapy treatments. Physical
therapists also should be compassionate and possess a desire to help patients.
Similar traits are needed to interact with the patient’s family.
Physical therapists are expected to continue their professional development by
participating in continuing education courses and workshops. In fact, a number
of states require continuing education as a condition of maintaining licensure.
Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than the
average for all occupations through 2014. The impact of pro-posed federal
legislation imposing limits on reimbursement for therapy services may adversely
affect the short-term job outlook for physical therapists. However, over the
long run, the demand for physical therapists should continue to rise as growth
in the number of individuals with disabilities or limited function spurs demand
for therapy services. Job opportunities should be particularly good in acute
hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings, because the elderly receive
the most treatment in these settings. The growing elderly population is
particularly vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require
therapeutic services. Also, the baby-boom generation is entering the prime age
for heart attacks and strokes, increasing the demand for cardiac and physical
rehabilitation. Further, young people will need physical therapy as
technological advances save the lives of a larger proportion of newborns with
severe birth defects.
Future medical developments also should permit a higher percentage of trauma
victims to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. In
addition, growth may result from advances in medical technology that could
permit the treatment of more disabling conditions.
Widespread interest in health promotion also should increase demand for
physical therapy services. A growing number of employers are using physical
therapists to evaluate worksites, develop exercise programs, and teach safe work
habits to employees in the hope of reducing injuries in the workplace.
Median annual earnings of physical therapists were $60,180 in May 2004. The
middle 50 percent earned between $50,330 and $71,760. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $42,010, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $88,580.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of
physical therapists in May 2004 were: Home health care services, $64,650;
Nursing care facilities, $61,720; Offices of physicians, $61,270; General
medical and surgical hospitals, $60,350; Offices of other health practitioners,
Additional Dispensing Optician job resources are presented in the paperback
Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
bookstores. Also explore jobs at VA hospitals and other
federal government employment options.
Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) - 1835 Rohlwing
Road, Suite E, Rolling Meadows, Illinois 60008; 847/394-2104. (http://www.crccertification.com)
Certification organization for rehabilitation counselors in the US and Canada.
Certification infor-mation and directory of members on web site.
National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials (NCRTM) 6524 Old
Main Hill, Logan UT 84322; 866/821-5355. (www.ncrtm.ed.usu.edu)
A federally funded information service currently being moved from Oklahoma State
University to Utah State University. Has a major free job bank where both job
seekers can list their résumés and employers can list their job openings.
National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) - 1885 Bob Johnson
Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80906; 719/632-6722, 800/815-6826. (http://www.nsca-lift.org/menu.asp,
nsca@ nsca-lift.org) Recognizes education programs, and certifies trainers. The
NSCA Career Center online, available to members only, currently has 102 job ads.
Student membership $80. On-site Career Fair available at annual conferences.
Physical Therapy Web Space - (http://automailer.com/tws)
Offers great resources for Canadian and U.S. physical therapists and PT
students. Has RSS feeds of jobs available in the US, Canada, and other areas of
the world, as well as links to other job sites. Links to both distance and
residential learning institutions, listed by state, articles on becoming a PT,
directory of PT organizations, and other PT sites listing everything from
equipment and software, to recruiters and management services.
Resume Writing Service - Professionally package your health care resume
for entry level, standard, and executive positions.
Health Care Jobs, Physical Therapist Jobs, Medical Jobs, Nursing Jobs