Personal satisfaction and benefit to society are major advantages of work as a physical therapist, according to CNN Money's 2012 survey of the best jobs. Physical therapists use techniques, such as exercise and massage, to restore patients' function and relieve pain. The required training usually takes three years, plus therapists must pass national or state exams for state licensing. Physical therapists receive high salaries on average, but the amount varies with the practice setting.
Average Salary and Range
The average income for physical therapists in all settings was $38.99 per hour or $81,110 yearly in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Annual salaries ranged from $55,620 to $112,020. As of 2010, approximately 71 percent of physical therapists had full-time jobs, according to the BLS.
Health Practioners' Offices
The largest segment of physical therapists, a total of 67,810, worked in offices of other health practitioners in 2012, reports the BLS. This setting, which includes physical and occupational therapy offices and chiropractic offices, paid an average of $38.07 per hour or $79,180 annually.
General medical and surgical hospitals employed 48,700 physical therapists in 2012, according to the BLS, with average hourly pay of $38.49, or $80,060 per year. Typically, physical therapists treat patients in the hospital for a short time until they are well enough to be discharged. Specialty hospitals employed an additional 6,750 physical therapists in 2012 and paid them average hourly wages of $38.80, or $80,690 annually.
Home Health Care
Physical therapists working for home health care services typically travel to patients' homes or other locations, such as group homes. Although many patients receiving home health care are elderly, children and people of all ages recovering from injuries also benefit from physical therapy in home settings. The average 2012 pay for home health physical therapists was $43.48 per hour or $90,440 annually, reports the BLS. Home health care was the highest-paying among the top five industries of employment in the survey.
Other Major Employers
Nursing care facilities provide longer-term physical therapy treatment, primarily for the elderly. The average salary for therapists in this setting was $41.26 hourly or $85,810 annually in 2012, according to the BLS. Physical therapists working in doctors' offices, on the other hand, earned less -- $38.68 per hour or $80,450 per year, on average.
In addition to home health care, three other settings had average annual pay for physical therapists exceeding $86,000 in 2012, according to the BLS. Management, scientific and technical consulting services paid an average of $87,170 per year, while employment services paid an average of $87,030 annually. Child day care services also employed physical therapists, paying them a yearly average of $86,480. Each of these three industries employed fewer than 3,500 physical therapists in 2012.
Physical therapists will enjoy a booming job market in coming years. The BLS predicts a 39 percent increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14 percent on average for all jobs. Advances in technology and the growing population of elderly will contribute the need for physical therapists. Rural areas and settings that treat the elderly, such as nursing care facilities, will present the best job opportunities.
- American Physical Therapy Association: Physical Therapist (PT) Careers Overview
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physical Therapists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Offices of Other Health Practitioners
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012: Physical Therapists
- American Physical Therapy Association: Benefits of a Physical Therapy Career
- Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images