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P is for Physical Therapist

by Chloe Campbell
October 2016

What do Physical Therapists Do?

October in National Physical Therapy Month. Each year millions of Americans ranging from newborns to seniors receive physical therapy services. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (, Physical Therapist help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain and are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention team treating patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries. The goal of physical therapy is to help people regain their ability to complete functional activities associated with daily living.

Brief History of the Physical Therapy Profession

Physical Therapy is an old medical practice that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Early physical therapy practitioners advocated massage, manual therapy techniques, and hydrotherapy to treat ailments. In the United States two events, World War I and the polio epidemic, led to the creation of a new health care profession, largely made up of women. The American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association was formed in 1921. Members were referred to as Reconstruction Aides and worked with returning injured WWI soldiers and polio survivors. In the late 1940s the group changed its name to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Subsequent wars and the eradication of polio forced the profession to evolve. In the 1950s the profession moved out of being only hospital based and into outpatient clinics, senior care facilities, universities, and rehabilitation centers. In 1967 amendments to the Social Security Act added definitions for outpatient physical therapy services and recognized physical therapists as health care providers for reimbursement. The profession has grown and now includes 17 specialties such as Acute Care, Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Sports, and Wound Care.

Table 1. Wages by Region
Region Employment Median Hourly Wage Median Annual Wage
U. S. 209,690 $40.73 $84,696.49
Minnesota 3,960 $37.45 $77,892.14
Central Minnesota 450 $39.10 $81,337.66
Northeast Minnesota 270 $35.54 $73,933.52
Northwest Minnesota 320 $37.69 $78,397.18
Southeast Minnesota 330 $39.88 $82,956.59
Southwest Minnesota 180 $39.09 $81,317.50
Seven County Metro 2,350 $37.00 $76,941.55

The Physical Therapy Profession Today

According to the most recent Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Data, 209,690 people work as Physical Therapists in the United States and 3,960 of those are in Minnesota. The median wage nationally for Physical Therapists is $40.73/hr. In Minnesota the median wage ranges from $35.54/hr. in Northeast Minnesota to $39.88/hr. in Southeast Minnesota.

Educational Requirements

A Doctoral of Physical Therapy degree is required to work as a physical therapist. Nationally, there are over 200 accredited, three year physical therapy programs. In Minnesota Doctorates of Physical Therapy (DPT) can be obtained at the following five schools: College of St. Scholastica, Duluth; Mayo School of Health Sciences, Rochester; St. Catherine University, Minneapolis campus; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and Concordia University, St. Paul. Upon completion of the three year degree program, students are eligible to take the required physical therapy licensure exam in the state in which they intend to practice. In Minnesota all Physical Therapists must complete 20 hours of continuing education every two years.

Economic and Growth Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for physical therapy services will come from the aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life. Physical therapists will also be needed to treat people with mobility issues stemming from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or obesity. In Minnesota the economic and growth outlook is strong for the Physical Therapy profession. Recent projections released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development predict that there will be a 23.1 percent statewide change in employment between 2014 -2024. Growth is projected to be greatest in Central and Southeast Minnesota but all areas of the state are projected to experience double digit growth.


For almost a century Physical Therapists have been recognized health care professionals. Physical Therapists help patients achieve optimal living and quality of life that allows them to participate and contribute to society. Strong demand for Physical Therapy services, in part from aging baby boomers and those with chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes, will drive occupational growth in every region in Minnesota.

Table 2. Projected Employment Growth by Region
Region OES Employment Projections Median Wage % Change 2014 - 2024
Minnesota 3,960 $37.45/hr 23.1%
Seven County Metro 2,350 $37.00/hr 23.9%
Central Minnesota 450 $39.10/hr 32.1%
Southeast Minnesota 330 $39.88/hr 21.7%
Northwest Minnesota 320 $37.69/hr 16.9%
Northeast Minnesota 270 $35.54/hr 8.7%
Southwest Minnesota 180 $39.09/hr 13.1%
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