California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Physical Therapists in California

May also be called: Licensed Physical Therapy Assistants; Pediatric Physical Therapists; Pulmonary Physical Therapists; Sports Physical Therapists; and Physiotherapists.

What Would I Do?

Physical Therapists are licensed health care professionals who evaluate a patient’s physical status; establish a plan of care and goals; and administer treatments to restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. Services related to wellness and fitness may include instruction in general flexibility, strength and conditioning exercise programs for home/clinical/health club settings, geriatric wellness exercise programs for individuals and groups, and ergonomic or other educational programs for industry or private organizations. Therapists essentially assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs that relieve pain, improve the bodys movement and function, maintain cardiopulmonary function, and limit disabilities resulting from disease or injury. Their patients include accident victims; individuals who have been impaired by birth defects; and those with disabling conditions, such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

Therapists use therapeutic exercise or deep-tissue massage to help their patients overcome disabilities. They encourage patients to use their own muscles to increase flexibility and range of motion before advancing to other exercises that improve strength, balance, coordination, and endurance. They also use electrical stimulation, hot packs or cold compresses, water, light, and ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Therapists teach patients to use assistive and adaptive devices, such as crutches, prostheses, and wheelchairs. They may also show patients a variety of exercises to do at home to expedite their recovery.

Therapists examine patients’ medical histories, then test and measure the patients’ strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. They also determine patients’ ability to be independent and reestablish themselves into the community or workplace after injury or illness. Physical Therapists develop treatment strategies. As treatment continues, they document the patient’s progress, conduct periodic examinations, and modify treatments when necessary.

Physical Therapists may use work tables, reflex hammers, pivotal traction therapy supplies, and other accessories for rehabilitation or therapy. They may also use biometrics video game software and recordkeeping software.

Physical Therapists generally work as part of a team and often consult and practice with a variety of other professionals, such as physicians, nurses, dentists, educators, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, vocational counselors, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. Some Physical Therapists treat a wide range of ailments while others may specialize in areas such as pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports medicine, amputations, arthritis, neurology, cardiopulmonary physical therapy, or paralysis. In addition, Therapists may teach or work as consultants.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Plan, prepare and carry out individually designed programs of physical treatment to maintain, improve or restore physical functioning, alleviate pain and prevent physical dysfunction in patients.Therapy and Counseling
Perform and document an initial exam, evaluating data to identify problems and determine a diagnosis prior to intervention.Medicine and Dentistry
Evaluate effects of treatment at various stages and adjust treatments to achieve maximum benefit.Judgment and Decision Making
Administer manual exercises, massage or traction to help relieve pain, increase patient strength, or decrease or prevent deformity or crippling.Equipment Selection
Instruct patient and family in treatment procedures to be continued at home.Instructing
Confer with the patient, medical practitioners and appropriate others to plan, implement and assess the intervention program.Critical Thinking
Review physician's referral and patient's medical records to help determine diagnosis and physical therapy treatment required.Inductive Reasoning
Record prognosis, treatment, response, and progress in patient's chart or enter information into computer.Monitoring
Obtain patients' informed consent to proposed interventions.Oral Expression
Test and measure patient's strength, motor development and function, sensory perception, functional capacity, and respiratory and circulatory efficiency and record data.Coordination
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Physical Therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, nursing homes, schools, sports and fitness facilities, group practice facilities, and clients homes. Therapists may work full-time, 40 hours a week, but part-time work and flexible schedules are also available. Their schedules may include working some evenings, holidays, or weekends. The job of a Physical Therapist can be physically exhausting as they often stand for long periods of time; help patients to turn, stand, or walk; and move heavy equipment. Although lifting of patients is required, Therapists are trained to lift so that coordination and stamina, rather than physical strength, are needed. The job can also be emotionally demanding and frustrating when little improvement in patients can be observed.

Physical Therapists are required to disclose, while working, his or her name and practitioners license status, as granted by California. A Physical Therapist in a practice or an office, whose license is prominently displayed in that office, may opt not to wear a name tag. In addition, Therapists may have to provide their own uniforms with sleeve emblems identifying their medical specialty. A bathing suit is generally required if giving treatment in a pool.

So far, there has been little unionization of Physical Therapists. Those who work for the State of California State government may belong to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In addition, Physical Therapists may be members of the California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA).

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Physical Therapist will appeal to those who enjoy assisting others and promoting learning and personal development. This occupation satisfies those with social interests. Social occupations involve teaching, offering advice, helping, and being of service to people.

Physical Therapists must have strong interpersonal skills in order to be able to educate patients about their physical therapy treatments. They must also be compassionate and possess a desire to help patients and their families.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2016 for Physical Therapists in California is $95,555 annually, or $45.94 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefit packages vary among employers. Generally, Physical Therapists receive medical, dental, and retirement benefits. In addition, many employers provide vision, life, vacation, and sick leave. Some employers offer a sign-on bonus.

What is the Job Outlook?

The demand for Physical Therapists should increase due to growth in the general and aging population, the widespread interest in health, and the growth of sports medicine. In addition, as more people exercise, they may require physical therapy for injuries.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Physical Therapists is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Physical Therapists are expected to increase by 26.9 percent, or 5,200 jobs between 2014 and 2024.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Physical Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 530 new job openings per year is expected for Physical Therapists, plus an additional 520 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 1,040 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Physical Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Physical Therapists must have a current license to work in the State of California that is issued by the Department of Consumer Affairs, Physical Therapy Board of California (PTBC). To obtain a Physical Therapist license, applicants must submit an application for licensure and pay the appropriate fees, pass a criminal fingerprint background check, and take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and the California Law Examination (CLE). In addition, they must have no felony convictions and must meet the following educational and training requirements:

  • Obtain a post baccalaureate (master’s) degree in physical therapy from an accredited postsecondary institution or institutions approved by the PTBC.
  • Complete academic coursework and clinical internship in physical therapy.
  • Complete a course of training, specified by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which includes a combination of didactic, clinical, and research experience in physical therapy using critical thinking and weighing of evidence.
  • Complete at least 18 weeks of full-time clinical experience with a variety of patients.

Physical Therapist programs start with basic science courses, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Specialized courses are then introduced, such as biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of disease, examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures. Besides classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.


Extensive skill, knowledge, and experience are needed for physical therapy occupations. The job of a Physical Therapist often involves coordinating, training, supervising, or managing the activities of others, primarily physical therapist assistants or physical therapy aides.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in a career in physical therapy should study biological and physical science, mathematics, health, and physical education. Volunteering in the physical therapy department of a hospital, clinic, or with a school athletic trainer is a good way to gain experience.

Continuing Education

Physical therapy licenses must be renewed every two years. California does not require renewing applicants to complete continuing education courses as a condition for license renewal. However, Therapists are encouraged to continue their professional development by participating in continuing education courses and workshops; in fact, individual employers may impose such a requirement.

Licensing and Certification

Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Physical Therapists may hold one or several certificates, such as Clinical Electrophysiologic Certified Specialist, Medical Exercise Specialist, Basic Life Support for Healthcare Providers, or Medical Terminology. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Physical Therapy/Therapist, Physical Therapist Assistant, and Yoga Teacher Training/Yoga Therapy.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Physical Therapists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 32.6%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 23.4%
Home Health Care Services 10.5%
Offices of Physicians 8.8%
Nursing Care Facilities 8.5%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Hospitals frequently advertise openings in newspaper ads and some also recruit through private employment agencies. Job seekers should also apply directly to hospital personnel departments throughout California. Applicants who apply for government job openings must first pass a federal or State civil service examination. Many firms can be searched in the telephone directory yellow pages.  Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Physical Therapists.

  • Clinics
  • Clinics-Physical Therapy
  • Health Service
  • Home Health Services
  • Hospitals
  • Physical Therapists
  • Sports Medicine & Injury Treatment

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Experienced Physical Therapists may advance to supervisory, administrative, or clinical research positions. An advanced degree in physical therapy is usually a prerequisite for appointment to teaching positions. Physical Therapists may become specialists who treat people with special diseases, disabilities, or injuries. Some Therapists may become consultants or set up a private practice accepting patients referred by local physicians.

Promotional avenues in the private sector are basically unstructured while advancement in government service requires success on promotional examinations. In both private and public sectors, experience and ability are the keys to advancement.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Physical Therapists with links to more information.

Athletic TrainersProfile
Child, Family, and School Social WorkersGuide
Respiratory TherapistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1123
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Physical Therapists29-1123.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SIR