September 26, 2023
Exploring the different work settings of physical therapists, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, and sports centers. We examine the evolution of the work settings, salaries, and specializations of physical therapists, and the role of technology and how it has impacted the practice. Learn how to choose the best work setting for you and what to expect in your day-to-day operations, and what to consider with location-based salaries options.


Physical therapy is a growing profession that is essential in helping individuals recover from injuries and chronic conditions. Physical therapists work in a variety of settings that allow them to provide comprehensive care for their patients. In this article, we will explore the different work settings, salaries, and roles of physical therapists to help answer the question, “Where do physical therapists work?”

Overview of Physical Therapy Work Settings

Physical therapy work settings are diverse and can range from hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, and sports centers to schools, home health agencies, and nursing homes. The different settings offer different environments for physical therapists to practice.

Working in a hospital can be intense due to the nature of the work, but it provides physical therapists the chance to work with an array of patients with different diagnoses. Private practice, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to run an entrepreneurial enterprise. An outpatient clinic is a kind of in-between where there is a steady flow of patients, but the pace is manageable. Sports centers provide physical therapists the opportunity to work with athletes of all levels, from amateur to professional. Each setting has advantages and disadvantages that an aspiring physical therapist must consider when choosing a career.

There has been a growth in the demand for physical therapy services due to an aging population, an expanding insurance-covered population, and increased access to health care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 18% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The Evolution of Physical Therapy Work Settings
The Evolution of Physical Therapy Work Settings

The Evolution of Physical Therapy Work Settings

Physical therapy work settings have undergone significant change and development throughout history. Early physical therapy was mainly focused on the treatment of war-related injuries, but it has evolved to a broader scope that covers a more diverse population. Modern physical therapy is multidisciplinary, encompassing pediatric care, sports medicine, neurological rehabilitation, orthopedics, and geriatrics, among other specialties.

The advent of technology has also had a significant impact on physical therapy work settings. Technological tools such as virtual reality, telehealth, and wearable devices, provide physical therapists with innovative ways to reach and treat clients remotely with the same effectiveness as in-person therapy. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the integration of technology into physical therapy practice, with many therapists conducting virtual visits with their patients.

Physical Therapy Specializations and Work Settings

Physical therapy specializations include pediatric care, geriatric care, orthopedics, neurology, cardiopulmonary, and women’s health, among others. Each specialization has a unique work setting that aligns with their area of expertise. For instance, pediatric physical therapy is primarily provided in schools, hospitals, and outpatient clinics, whereas geriatric care is primarily delivered in nursing homes and inpatient rehabilitation centers.

Choosing a work setting in line with specialization is vital for physical therapists because it helps build a solid clinical foundation. It also enhances the development of technical skills, leading to enhanced expertise in the chosen area of specialization.

Salaries and Work Settings

The average salary of a physical therapist varies concerning the work setting, experience level, and location. Hospital-based physical therapists earn an average salary in the US of around $88,000, while therapists working in nursing homes have lower average salaries. Private practitioners have significantly higher earnings, with some earning up to a six-figure income. In general, the more experience and education one has, the greater the earning potential in any given work setting.

Salaries also vary significantly by geographic location. The cost of living and job competition will affect salaries in a given area. Physical therapy is also a global profession, with salaries differing by country and region worldwide.

The Role of Technology in Physical Therapy Work Settings

Technology has revolutionized the physical therapy profession, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of treatments. E-Health, telehealth and virtual reality, among others, allow for remote treatment of clients. The integration of technology has also made physical therapy more accessible, making it easier for clients to book and attend appointments. Technologies like EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) have also made documentation of patient records and clinical data more efficient and accurate.

How to Choose the Right Physical Therapy Work Setting

When deciding on the best work setting, physical therapists need to consider several factors such as the location, type of work setting, work-life balance, opportunities for career advancement, and the culture of the organization. Personal preferences, interests, and career goals also play a role in the choice of work setting. Physical therapists interested in working with children may find an elementary or high school setting more suitable, whereas those interested in sports may find working with professional athletes in a sports center their preferred work setting.

Physical therapists must also identify their strengths and weaknesses to determine which dynamic work setting fits them the best. New graduates should consider a mentorship program, which would expose them to different settings and enhance their clinical skills and knowledge.

A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist in Different Work Settings

Physical therapists provide a similar standard of care regardless of the work setting. However, daily routines and tasks may vary significantly depending on the work setting. For instance, in pediatric physical therapy, physical therapists work with parents, teachers, and pediatricians to assess, diagnose and treat any movement or functional issues in children. Geriatric care, on the other hand, involves dealing with age-related conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Different work settings will require a therapist to develop unique skills to address different patient needs.


Physical therapy work settings provide diversification, career advancement opportunities, and excellent compensation packages. Aspiring physical therapists should critically evaluate the pros and cons of the various settings in terms of their career objectives. The impact of technology on physical therapy has given therapists new benefits and opportunities and added new dimensions to the work of physical therapists. Technology is expected to continue revolutionizing the way physical therapy is delivered in the future.

The most critical decision a physical therapist can make is to choose a working environment that aligns with their passions, interests, lifestyle, and career goals. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to the right physical therapy work setting. One’s choice of work setting should adapt and grow as their career progresses and evolves.

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