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
Oakwood College Huntsville AL 1767
University of Mobile Mobile AL 1968
University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham AL 14951
University of South Alabama Mobile AL 11673
University of Central Arkansas Conway AR 8481
Arkansas State University - Main Campus State University AR 10429
Northern Arizona University Flagstaff AZ 19964
Azusa Pacific University Azusa CA 6497
California State University - Fresno Fresno CA 19056
California State University - Long Beach Long Beach CA 30918
California State University - Northridge Northridge CA 29066
Loma Linda University Loma Linda CA 3153
California State University - Sacramento Sacramento CA 25714
Monterey Peninsula College Monterey CA 9421
Cerritos College Norwalk CA 24536
De Anza College Cupertino CA 22770
El Camino College Torrance CA 24067
Mount St Marys College Los Angeles CA 1973
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Samuel Merritt College Oakland CA 693
San Diego Mesa College San Diego CA 21233
San Francisco State University San Francisco CA 26826
University of California - San Francisco San Francisco CA 3517
University of the Pacific Stockton CA 5609
University of Southern California Los Angeles CA 29194
Western University of Health Sciences Pomona CA 1471
Regis University Denver CO 9129
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Denver CO 2399
Quinnipiac University Hamden CT 6477
Sacred Heart University Fairfield CT 5684
University of Connecticut Storrs CT 19393
University of Hartford West Hartford CT 6895
Howard University Washington DC 10010
University of Delaware Newark DE 19072
University of St Augustine for Health Sciences Saint Augustine FL 419
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Tallahassee FL 12126
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale FL 18587
Florida International University Miami FL 31945
University of Florida Gainesville FL 45114
University of Miami Coral Gables FL 13963
Andrew College Cuthbert GA 329
Armstrong Atlantic State University Savannah GA 5444
Emory University Atlanta GA 11398
Medical College of Georgia Augusta GA 1932
North Georgia College & State University Dahlonega GA 4552
Georgia State University Atlanta GA 23625
Institute of Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Honolulu HI 30
Clarke College Dubuque IA 1249
Saint Ambrose University Davenport IA 3011
University of Iowa Iowa City IA 28311
College of Southern Idaho Twin Falls ID 5452
Idaho State University Pocatello ID 13040
North Idaho College Coeur Dalene ID 4049
Northwest Nazarene University Nampa ID 1316
Midwestern University Downers Grove IL 1499
Bradley University Peoria IL 5951
Chicago State University Chicago IL 6914
Governors State University University Park IL 6105
Northern Illinois University Dekalb IL 23248
Northwestern University Evanston IL 16952
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science North Chicago IL 1360
University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago IL 24942
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
University of Evansville Evansville IN 2636
University of Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 3599
Allen County Community College Iola KS 1968
Independence Community College Independence KS 1144
University of Kansas Medical Center Kansas City KS 2409
Wichita State University Wichita KS 14810
University of Kentucky Lexington KY 23114
University of Louisville Louisville KY 19771
Dillard University New Orleans LA 1953
Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans New Orleans LA 2720
Mgh Institute of Health Professions Boston MA 524
Simmons College Boston MA 3488
Boston University Boston MA 28318
Northeastern University Boston MA 23897
Springfield College Springfield MA 4722
University of Massachusetts - Lowell Lowell MA 12189
University of Maryland - Baltimore Baltimore MD 5337
University of Maryland - Eastern Shore Princess Anne MD 3297
Husson College Bangor ME 1944
Alpena Community College Alpena MI 1853
Andrews University Berrien Springs MI 2749
Gogebic Community College Ironwood MI 1106
Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant MI 26845
Delta College University Center MI 9358
Grand Valley State University Allendale MI 18569
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
Monroe County Community College Monroe MI 3555
Lansing Community College Lansing MI 16011
Mid Michigan Community College Harrison MI 2316
Muskegon Community College Muskegon MI 4311
Oakland University Rochester Hills MI 15235
Schoolcraft College Livonia MI 9016
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
University of Michigan - Flint Flint MI 6316
Wayne State University Detroit MI 30408
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis MN 45481
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