According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the average physical therapist salary is $88,880 per year or $42.73 per hour. The median annual wage is $87,930 per year or $42.27 per hour. This is 127.6% higher than the median annual wage for all occupations.
Of course, how much physical therapists actually earn depends on experience, location, and industry.
Highest and Lowest Average Physical Therapist Salary
The BLS also reports the highest and lowest salaries for physical therapists, which are as follows:
- The lowest 10% of physical therapists earn less than $60,390 per year
- The highest 10% of physical therapists earn more than $123,350
The lower end reflects inexperienced physical therapists working for lower-paying industries like public schools. The higher end reflects experienced physical therapists working in the highest-paying industries like the performing arts.
Physical Therapist Average Salary by Experience Level
As it is with most professions, physical therapists earn more based on their years of experience. The following numbers are based on 2016 data from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
- New physical therapy graduates earn an average starting salary of $67,000
- Recent PT graduates with less than 9 years of experience earn an average of $80,000 per year
- A physical therapist with more than 10 years of experience earn $90,000+ per year
There are notable exceptions to the numbers above. For example, recent graduates who opt for a traveling PT job tend to earn more and enjoy more perks than graduates in other job types.
Physical Therapist Salary by Degree Type
According to the APTA, your degree level doesn’t directly affect your salary as a physical therapist. In the past, individuals only needed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy to work as a physical therapist. Now, the only acceptable entry-level professional post-baccalaureate degree program is the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). Having experience matters more in this field, so current PTs with only a master’s degree still make more than new PTs with a DPT.
Average Physical Therapist Salary by Industry
The industry you work in has a big effect on your potential earnings. If you’re looking to maximize earnings as a PT, try to gain experience in the higher paying industries during school to make yourself a prime employment candidate.
Average Physical Therapist Salary in the Top-Paying Industries
According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the top paying industries for physical therapists:
- Performing Arts Companies: $107,700 average annual salary
- Child Day Care Services: $96,630 average annual salary
- Home Health Care Services: $96,470 average annual salary
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly: $95,470 average annual salary
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services: $92,950 average annual salary
Unfortunately, the job availability for the top two highest paying industries is small. Only 30 PTs work for performing arts companies and only 210 work for day care services. Of the highest paying industries, you have the best chance at working in home health care services. The BLS reports 27,940 employed physical therapists in this industry as of May 2018.
Average Physical Therapist Salary in the Lowest-Paying Industries
Some physical therapist industries pay much less than others. These are the lowest paying industries as of May 2018:
- Elementary and Secondary Schools – State-Owned: $58,850 average annual salary
- Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: $74,010 average annual salary
- Fitness and Recreational Sports Centers: $78,500 average annual salary
- Amusement, Gambling, and Recreation Industries: $78,510 average annual salary
- Vocational Rehabilitation Services: $78,510 average annual salary
Within these industries, there are just over 1,000 employed physical therapists. The average salaries for these fields might seem low, but there’s room for upward mobility in terms of compensation. For example, 10% of PTs working for vocational rehabilitation services earn more than $116,780 per year. The availability of higher paying jobs in these fields depends on your location and your experience.
Average Physical Therapist Salary in the Most Popular Industry
In 2016, physical therapists filled 239,800 jobs. The largest percentage of physical therapists, 79,660, work in the offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists. On average, physical therapists in this industry earn $85,770 per year with the highest 10% earning more than $121,030 per year.
Average Physical Therapist Salary by State and City
Where you live has a huge impact on your potential earnings as a PT. For reference, the national average salary for physical therapists is just $88,880.
States with the Highest Average Physical Therapist Salary
Physical therapists earn much more in some states compared to others. Here are the top five states that pay PTs the most on average:
- Nevada: $107,920 average annual salary
- Alaska: $99,180 average annual salary
- New Jersey: $97,770 average annual salary
- New Mexico: $97,210 average annual salary
- California: $97,110 average annual salary
Just because you can earn more money in a different state doesn’t mean you’ll have more money to spend on amenities or put toward your student loans. For example, New Jersey, Alaska, and California are the 11th, 6th and 4th most expensive states to live in according to CNBC. Your extra boost in earnings will need to go towards higher housing, transportation, and grocery costs.
Cities with the Highest Average Physical Therapist Salary
The specific city you live in can also affect your earning potential. The BLS identifies the following cities as the top-paying metropolitan areas for physical therapists:
- Ames, IA: $118,870 average annual salary
- Great Falls, MT: $116,580 average annual salary
- Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV: $115,240 average annual salary
- Yuma, AZ: $114,850 average annual salary
- Bakersfield, CA: $114,170 average annual salary
States with the Lowest Average Physical Therapist Salary
Physical therapists living in the following states have the lowest annual mean wages:
- Vermont: $75,010 average annual salary
- South Dakota: $76,200 average annual salary
- Maine: $76,910 average annual salary
- Idaho: $77,700 average annual salary
- North Dakota: $78,120 average annual salary
Normally, when you live in an area with a low cost of living, your wage is lower than average. However, Vermont is the 10th most expensive state to live in. Work in Vermont, and your earning potential is also much lower. Only 10% of physical therapists in Vermont earn an average salary higher than $99,710. For comparison, in states like West Virginia, New Mexico, Virginia, and Illinois, physical therapists can earn upwards of $130,000.
Is Becoming a Physical Therapist Worth It?
You need to earn a bachelor’s degree and then your Doctor of Physical Therapy to become a licensed physical therapist in the United States. That’s roughly four years of undergrad and then another three to earn your professional degree. While in school, the average PT student is missing out on income and racking up thousands of dollars of debt.
According to WebPT, more than half of PT students graduate owing more than $70,000 in student loans. More than one-third owe over $100,000 and 10 percent of graduates owe more than $150,000. You do have options like private refinancing, student loan forgiveness for Physical therapists, and federal repayment plans, but it’s still a lot of debt to take on.
The State of Rehab Therapy 2018 report by WebPT also establishes that the debt-to-earnings ratio for physical therapists is increasing. Salaries aren’t rising fast enough to keep up with the rising costs of college. Many physical therapists report working extra shifts or two jobs and turning to alternate sources of income to be able to pay off their student loan balances.
You need to consider factors like what industry you’ll go into, how you’ll finance your education, where you’ll live, and where you’ll go to school as you weigh whether a career in physical therapy is worth it for you.
Job Outlook for Physical Therapists in the United States
If you do decide to pursue a career as a physical therapist, the job market is expected to thrive over the next seven years. Due to high surgical costs, the aging population in America is turning to physical therapy to address their functional disorders. From 2016 to 2026, the BLS predicts a 28% increase in job opportunities for physical therapists. That’s approximately 67,100 new jobs.
If you end up in this profession, finding a job shouldn’t be a problem.