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Physical Therapy Profession

Physical therapy is a unique and vital health profession concerned with health promotion, prevention of physical disabilities and the habilitation/rehabilitation of person disabled by pain, disease, or injury. Physical therapy is defined as the assessment, evaluation, treatment and prevention of physical disability, pain and movement dysfunction resulting from injury, disease, disability, or other health related conditions.

Physical Therapy includes:

  • The performance and interpretation of tests and measurements to assess pathophysiological, pathomechanical, electrophysiological, ergonomic, and developmental deficits of bodily systems to determine diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and prevention.
  • The planning, administration, and modification of therapeutic interventions that focus on posture, locomotion, strength, endurance, cardiopulmonary function, balance, coordination, joint mobility, flexibility, pain, healing and repair, and functional abilities in daily living skills, including work.
  • The provision of consultative, educational, research and other advisory services.

Physical therapists must pass a national licensure examination in order to practice in the United States. Graduation from an accredited physical therapy curriculum is the first step in becoming licensed.

Learn more about the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) on the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) website.

Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, school systems, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and fitness centers.  The American Physical Therapy Association reports the median salary for a physical therapist is $80,000 depending on position, years of experience, degree of education, geographic location, and practice setting.

The minimum educational requirements to practice physical therapy is a post-baccalaureate degree from an accredited education program. While some programs offer a master's degree, a majority of programs offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree. Currently, over 200 colleges and universities nationwide offer professional physical therapist education programs. Entry-level programs prepare students as generalists in physical therapy. UTHSC has a three-year professional program and graduates of the program are awarded the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

For physical therapists who have completed their basic physical therapy education and wish to specialize in a specific area, post–professional programs are available. These programs are developed for those physical therapists who seek advanced knowledge and/or skill in clinical practice, education, management, and/or research. 

In addition, some universities and community colleges offer accredited two-year educational programs for physical therapist assistants (PTAs). PTAs are skilled technical health care workers who, under the supervision of physical therapists, assist in patients’ treatment programs. Graduation from a PTA program does not assure an individual’s admission into an educational program for the physical therapist.

Last Published: Oct 8, 2018