Physical Therapy General

Physical therapy, or physiotherapy, is focused on helping patients recuperate following acute illness or debilitating injury. Physical therapists, or simply "PTs," are trained to help people regain their former mobility and function so they can live a normal life. U.S. News & World Report included Physical Therapy on its Top 10 Best Careers list for 2012.

The physical therapist's tools may be very simple, such as heat and ice, or very complex, involving ultrasonography or electrical stimulation of the muscles. Other interventions include joint mobilizations, strength training, bracing, taping, and the use of orthotic and prosthetic devices.

Anyone who has experienced an impairment or loss of physical function may seek help from a physical therapist. PTs apply subclinical and clinical treatments to reduce pain and swelling, minimize stiffness, maximize mobility, strengthen the body, and promote proper ergonomics. They also engage in substantive patient education.

About Physical Therapy

Physical therapists work in hospitals, inpatient and outpatient clinics, universities, pediatric centers, patients' homes, nursing homes and assisted living. Often, they go to where the injuries are. In pediatrics, for example, PTs may conduct therapy at home or in the child's day care facility. Home delivery of rehabilitation services is on the rise, mainly because it cuts costs and crowds at hospitals.

There is overlap between the fields of occupational therapy and physical therapy, which are both healthcare-oriented disciplines that provide rehabilitation services. However, occupational therapists do not usually apply direct clinical treatments, whereas a physical therapist is licensed to administer, for example, manual therapy and wound care, as well as more advanced treatments such as vestibular rehabilitation, acupuncture, and decongestant lymphatic drainage massages.

Physical therapy is increasingly seeing the integration of cutting-edge technologies unprecedented in the field. Emerging applications include the use of humanoid robots to deliver both physical and speech therapy to stroke patients, as seen in research conducted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst earlier this year.


The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, or CAPTE, is the chief accrediting body for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in the U.S. There are 218 accredited physical therapy programs as of 2013, according to the organization, all of which offer degrees up to the master's level. A complete list of CAPTE-accredited programs can be found at the American Physical Therapy Association's website.


Physical therapists must acquire a license to practice in every American state. Licensure is normally issued through each state's regulatory board. A PT's licensure must also be renewed on a regular basis through the accrual of continuing education credits, a requirement typical of skilled professions.

Many states utilize the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE), the entry-level professional PT certification test, to verify whether licensure candidates are competent to safely deliver physical therapy in the United States.

Educational Options in Physical Therapy

The American Physical Therapy Association has set up a common application platform with numerous participating PT programs, called the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service, or PTCAS. PTCAS offers prospective students the convenience of applying to multiple physical therapy schools with the same information.

Primary Certification

The primary certification exam for physical therapists is the National Physical Therapy Exam, or NPTE, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. All PT school graduates must go on to pass the NPTE in order to become a licensed physical therapist the United States. Typically, around 90 percent of graduates from accredited physical therapy programs pass the NPTE on the first try.

Although it does not issue certifications or accreditation, the American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA, is an extraordinarily helpful organization for students and practitioners in this sector. The group's website may be consulted for topics ranging from education to career development and specialization.

Post-Secondary Degrees

A bachelor's degree is a critical prerequisite for gaining entry to any kind of graduate program. Students who plan to earn a graduate PT degree should be sure their undergraduate program of choice supplies the recommended curriculum. This includes biology, chemistry, physics, and basic social science.

A master's degree is considered entry-level for the profession, and is sufficient to sit for the professional licensure exam. The Master of Physical Therapy (M.P.T.) or Master of Science in Physical Therapy (M.S.P.T.) are among the most common physical therapy degrees.

For those who decide to advance to the doctoral level, some physical therapy schools offer the Ph.D. in Physical Rehabilitation Science. There is also a truncated, entry-level doctorate called the Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.).

Secondary Certifications

Some physical therapists work as general PT practitioners; others specialize. Orthopedic physical therapy is by far the most popular specialty.

Orthopedic therapists help individuals recover from surgical procedures, sprains, amputations, arthritis, fractures, tears, herniated discs, tendinitis, whiplash, and virtually any other injury involving the musculoskeletal system.

Specialty certifications in physical therapy are issued by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). Its "Certified Specialist" credentials include:

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary (CCS)

Clinical Electrophysiology (ECS)

Geriatrics (GCS)

Neurology (NCS)

Orthopedics (OCS)

Pediatrics (PCS)

Sports (SCS)

Women's Health (WCS)

One of the best ways to keep up with the latest in specialization programming is by joining one or more "sections" hosted by the APTA for its members. Sections help participants keep up with current research, network with other professionals, and access continuing education discounts. Awards, research funding, publishing, residency and fellowship opportunities are also available.

APTA member sections include:

Acute Care

Aquatic Physical Therapy

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary

Clinical Electrophysiology and Wound Management


Federal Physical Therapy


Hand Rehabilitation

Health Policy and Administration

Home health





Private Practice


Sports Physical Therapy

Women's Health

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We found 231 schools offering physical therapy degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 231 Physical Therapy General Colleges in the U.S.

Physical Therapy Schools Ranked By US News and World Report

University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 29194

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
University of Delaware
Newark, DE  |  Total Enrollment: 19072

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's
University of Pittsburgh - Main Campus
Pittsburgh, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 26329

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Washington University in St Louis
Saint Louis, MO  |  Total Enrollment: 12118

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA  |  Total Enrollment: 28311

Degrees Offered: Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
Mgh Institute of Health Professions
Boston, MA  |  Total Enrollment: 524

Degrees Offered: Master's, Post-Masters certificate
Emory University
Atlanta, GA  |  Total Enrollment: 11398

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Northwestern University
Evanston, IL  |  Total Enrollment: 16952

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL  |  Total Enrollment: 13963

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC  |  Total Enrollment: 24892

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree

Browse All 231 Colleges With Physical Therapy Programs

Title City State Enrollment
Hardin - Simmons University Abilene TX 2304
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
Sage College of Albany Albany NY 2407
University of New Mexico - Main Campus Albuquerque NM 23670
Alcorn State University Alcorn State MS 2936
Grand Valley State University Allendale MI 18569
Alpena Community College Alpena MI 1853
Amarillo College Amarillo TX 8422
Daemen College Amherst NY 1824
Northern Virginia Community College Annandale VA 37073
Marymount University Arlington VA 3422
Neumann College Aston PA 1804
Ohio University - Main Campus Athens OH 19920
Emory University Atlanta GA 11398
Georgia State University Atlanta GA 23625
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
Azusa Pacific University Azusa CA 6497
University of Maryland - Baltimore Baltimore MD 5337
Husson College Bangor ME 1944
Coastal Bend College Beeville TX 3259
Andrews University Berrien Springs MI 2749
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham AL 14951
University of Mary Bismarck ND 2343
Southwest Baptist University Bolivar MO 3593
Northeast Mississippi Community College Booneville MS 2796
Mgh Institute of Health Professions Boston MA 524
Simmons College Boston MA 3488
Boston University Boston MA 28318
Northeastern University Boston MA 23897
Bowling Green State University - Main Campus Bowling Green OH 18096
Long Island University - Brooklyn Campus Brooklyn NY 7780
Suny Health Science Center at Brooklyn Brooklyn NY 1470
Dyouville College Buffalo NY 2397
Suny at Buffalo Buffalo NY 24830
University of Vermont and State Agricultural Coll Burlington VT 10118
Rutgers University - Camden Camden NJ 5136
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill NC 24892
The University of Tennessee - Chattanooga Chattanooga TN 8319
Eastern Washington University Cheney WA 8597
Widener University - Main Campus Chester PA 5192
John Tyler Community College Chester VA 5238
Chicago State University Chicago IL 6914
University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago IL 24942
College of Mount St. Joseph Cincinnati OH 2221
University of Cincinnati - Main Campus Cincinnati OH 27327
Cisco Junior College Cisco TX 2642
Cleveland State University Cleveland OH 15294
North Idaho College Coeur Dalene ID 4049
University of Missouri - Columbia Columbia MO 23309
University of South Carolina - Columbia Columbia SC 23728
Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus OH 47952
University of Central Arkansas Conway AR 8481
University of Miami Coral Gables FL 13963
Del Mar College Corpus Christi TX 9936
Western Carolina University Cullowhee NC 6699
De Anza College Cupertino CA 22770
Andrew College Cuthbert GA 329
North Georgia College & State University Dahlonega GA 4552
College Misericordia Dallas PA 2271
The University of Texas Southwest Med Ctr - Dallas Dallas TX 1505
Saint Ambrose University Davenport IA 3011
University of Dayton Dayton OH 10318
East Central Community College Decatur MS 2291
Northern Illinois University Dekalb IL 23248
Texas Womans University Denton TX 8404
Regis University Denver CO 9129
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Denver CO 2399
Wayne State University Detroit MI 30408
Mercy College - Main Campus Dobbs Ferry NY 9244
Midwestern University Downers Grove IL 1499
Clarke College Dubuque IA 1249
The College of Saint Scholastica Duluth MN 2054
Duke University Durham NC 12192
The University of Texas at El Paso El Paso TX 15224
Elon University Elon NC 4138
Snow College Ephraim UT 2999
Gannon University Erie PA 3377
Northwestern University Evanston IL 16952
University of Evansville Evansville IN 2636
Sacred Heart University Fairfield CT 5684
The University of Findlay Findlay OH 4510
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 19964
University of Michigan - Flint Flint MI 6316
Pacific University Forest Grove OR 1979
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale FL 18587
California State University - Fresno Fresno CA 19056
University of Florida Gainesville FL 45114
Galveston College Galveston TX 2255
The University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston Galveston TX 1927
Arcadia University Glenside PA 2736
University of North Dakota Grand Forks ND 11031
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
East Carolina University Greenville NC 18750
Quinnipiac University Hamden CT 6477
Mid Michigan Community College Harrison MI 2316
Hill College Hillsboro TX 2512
Institute of Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Honolulu HI 30
Oakwood College Huntsville AL 1767
Independence Community College Independence KS 1144
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
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