Physical therapy is a health care specialty that focuses on exercise. The goal of the physical therapist is to improve mobility and decrease pain by teaching patients ways to strengthen or stretch muscles and improve posture. PTs also use other treatments, called modalities, such as heat or cold therapy and massage. Salaries for PTs vary according to location and experience.
Education, Certification and Licensure
A doctorate is required for physical therapists as of 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many practicing physical therapists, however, still have master’s degrees. In addition to didactic and lab courses, physical therapists must complete supervised clinical coursework to become licensed. PTs may also complete residency programs lasting up to three years. Certification is not required, but many PTs choose to become certified, especially if they specialize in a discipline such as sports therapy or pediatrics.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for PTs in 2012 was $81,110 a year. The median salary, or midway point between the lowest and highest salaries, was $79,860 a year. Although the BLS does not break out salaries by years on the job, it does report that the lowest-paid 10 percent earned $55,620 a year or less. In many cases, entry-level wages will be on the lower end of the spectrum rather than the higher end. The most recent survey by the American Physical Therapy Association, completed in 2010, reported a median salary of $60,660 for PTs who had up to three years of experience.
A March 2011 article in Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine reported that the average salary for a PT in 2010 was $76,296. PTs in the Northeast tended to have higher salaries. Entry-level PTs earned an average of $66,545, while those with 16 or more years of experience averaged $84,656. PTs with a doctorate averaged $70,543 -- more than the average across the board for entry-level PTs, but considerably less than the average overall salary.
Changes for 2012 and 2013
In a 2012 survey for Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine, more than half of the respondents had been in the field five years or less. About 40 percent had salaries of $65,000 or more. This survey also found that PTs who worked in rural settings had higher earnings and might earn as much as $100,000 a year. By 2013, PTs earned an average of $76,013, according to Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine. The 2013 survey did not include data on entry-level salaries, but PTs with up to five years of experience earned an average of $62,784.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physical Therapists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 29-1123 Physical Therapists
- Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine: 2011 Salary Survey Results
- Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine: 2012 Salary Survey Results
- Advance Healthcare Network for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine: 2013 Salary Survey Results
- American Physical Therapy Association: American Physical Therapy Association 2010 Median Income of Physical Therapists Summary Report
- Keith Brofsky/Digital Vision/Getty Images