Online Degrees In Physical Therapy

Physical therapists work at the forefront of the healthcare rehabilitation field, helping patients improve movement impaired by disease, injury or corrective surgery.

If you have strong interpersonal skills and feel comfortable using your hands to massage or physically assist patients in therapeutic exercises, a career in physical therapy might be a good fit for you. While physical stamina and dexterity play an important role, so does a sense of compassion and a natural desire to help people.

High school graduates, working professionals and adult learners who don’t have the time or find it difficult to attend an on-campus program may want to consider earning an online degree in physical therapy. Online degree programs in physical therapy are just as rigorous as on-campus ones and schools can often help students find convenient locations for clinical practice.

Demand for PT services will outpace the supply of PTs within the United States. Shortages are expected to increase for all 50 states through 2030.

Physical therapists help to restore, maintain, and promote the optimal physical functioning of the body. The role of a physical therapist (PT) can be two-fold:

Rehabilitation — This involves restoring functions, improving mobility, alleviating pain and limiting disabilities in patients who are injured or have a disease that impairs their movements.

Prevention and wellness — PTs create customized fitness and wellness programs to prevent or reduce the risk of loss of mobility before it occurs.

The role of a physical therapist is supported by physical therapy assistants and physical therapy aides. While physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work directly with patients, physical therapy aides carry out clerical duties in the clinic. Physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and aides work in nursing homes, hospitals, home health and orthopedic facilities. They may also work with fitness centers or schools.

Duties in a physical therapy clinic can vary depending on the job profile, but a few common duties include:

  • Diagnosing patients and writing out individual care plans
  • Supervising and using exercises, stretches and other hands-on therapies for patients to help them recover impaired mobility or manage pain
  • Treating patients through massages and recording observations on patients’ progress
  • Helping patients use equipment like walkers as a part of the therapy plan
  • Cleaning treatment areas and setting up therapy equipment
  • Scheduling appointments and answering phones

Other professional roles of physical therapists include providing consulting, education, research and administration services.

With the introduction of the direct access program in 2015 as part of the Affordable Care Act legislation, patients can have direct access to some level of treatment from physical therapists without prior prescription from a physician in all 50 states. This has not only increased access to physical therapists but also allows physical therapists to perform their duties autonomously and market their practice directly to consumers. While Medicare beneficiaries can go directly to a PT without a referral from a physician, many insurance companies, too, recognize the benefits of direct access and do not require the referral of a physician to process reimbursements to PTs.

This list of occupations related to a physical therapy degree, along with data drawn from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), can give you an idea of the wages and job projections related to each occupation.

Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Physical Therapist Assistants96,840$58,52027.1%
Physical Therapist Aides49,270$29,18022.8%
Physical Therapists233,350$90,17021.9%

Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals

Physical therapists rank 6th on the list of occupations with the highest percent change of employment between 2016-2026, while physical therapist assistants and aides rank 7th and 8th respectively.

Physical therapy aides may be able to get a job with a high school diploma but having a certificate in physical therapy can increase employability and potential wages.

Physical therapy assistants are required to have a minimum education level of an associate degree in most states.

Nearly 80 percent of physical therapists hold at least a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in physical therapy, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, to practice as a physical therapist, you must earn a physical therapy degree from a CAPTE– accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam.

What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?

Online certificate programs for physical therapy aides are designed to familiarize students with the needs of a physical therapy clinic or department. Even though physical therapy aides do not treat patients, certificate-level programs are designed to give students an understanding of common ailments and treatment methods used by physiotherapists.

Typical duration: Less than or up to one year

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Physical therapy certificate programs include subjects related to the basic operation of a healthcare facility and general medical care methods for patients. Some of the core subjects include:

  • Introduction to medical terminology
  • Customer service and effective communication
  • Patient positioning, body mechanics, and transfer techniques
  • Exercise and mobility training
  • Wheelchairs, assistive devices, and gait training

Additionally, you may be required to complete the practical component at a local clinic in order to graduate.

What can I do after earning a certificate?

Potential occupations may include:

  • Clinical rehabilitation aide
  • Physical therapist aide
  • Physical therapist technician
  • Rehabilitation aide
  • Rehabilitation attendant
  • Restorative care technician
  • Occupational therapy aide

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Online coursework for an associate degree program in physical therapy can include subjects directly associated with patient care and treatment as well as subjects like algebra, anatomy, psychology and clinical practice that may help them in their daily work.

Typical duration: Less than or up to two years

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED. Applicants may also be required to pass the Health Educations Systems Inc. (HESI) A2 Exam

Typical coursework: Coursework in an online physical therapy degree program may include:

  • Introduction to PTA
  • Essentials of clinical care
  • Neurological/neuromuscular rehabilitation
  • Motor development/aging
  • Kinesiology
  • Physical therapy interventions
  • Therapeutic exercise and orthopedic applications

Additionally, online physical therapy assistant programs may require you to clock in a certain number of hours of clinical work experience.

What can I do after earning an associate degree?

Potential occupations may include:

  • Physical therapist assistant
  • Home health physical therapist assistant
  • Outpatient physical therapist assistant
  • Per diem physical therapist assistant
The high demand for physical therapists will likely stem from the baby boomer population as many are entering the prime age for heart attacks, strokes and mobility-related injuries.

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), “The most common undergraduate majors among PT students include exercise science, biology, kinesiology, and psychology.” Students intending to pursue graduate or doctoral programs in physical therapy should consider building a strong foundation in the sciences, including courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics and statistics.

Typical duration: Four years

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED. Applicants may also be required to pass the Health Educations Systems Inc. (HESI) A2 Exam

Typical coursework: In addition to typical coursework that includes core subjects like composition and math, you may find the following courses included in your bachelor’s degree program:

  • Evidence-based practice and ethics in physical therapy
  • Advanced musculoskeletal system interventions
  • Concepts of leadership
  • Advanced neurological and cardiopulmonary interventions
  • Outcome measures and reporting for the PTA

Additionally, students may be required to complete a capstone project or work experience as a part of the course.

What can I do after earning a bachelor’s degree?

An online bachelor’s degree in physical therapy might enable you to work in larger institutions or enable you to work in entry-level roles in healthcare management. Some potential jobs are:

  • Certified physical therapist assistant
  • Physical therapist assistant and nurse aide
  • Physical therapy technician
  • Staff physical therapy assistant

The minimum educational requirement to work as a physical therapist in the United States is a CAPTE accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) and Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT) degrees are no longer offered to new students. Please see the doctoral degrees section to learn about professional physical therapist education programs.

Doctoral degree programs in physical therapy cater to two different types of candidates – those who are currently practicing physiotherapists with a master’s degree in physical therapy and individuals who are making their first forays into the world of physical therapy. According to the APTA, new students interested in a professional (entry-level) physical therapist program are required to enroll in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

Practicing physical therapists who would like to achieve a doctoral degree can enroll in Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (TDPT) so as to be line with APTA’s vision 2020.

What can I expect to learn in an online transitional doctoral degree program?

As TDPTs are meant for licensed physical therapists with plenty of practical experience under their belts, you may be able to find transitional doctoral degree programs in a completely online format.

Typical duration: One to three years of part-time study

General prerequisites: Proof of graduation (official transcript) from a CAPTE accredited physical therapist degree program, current license to practice physical therapy in the United States; may also need professional recommendations

Typical coursework:

Transitional physical therapy doctoral degree programs are designed to cover any educational gaps that might have arisen through a master’s degree in order to align with APTA’s vision 2020. Typical coursework may include:

  • Medical screening
  • Health promotions
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Orthopedic physical therapy

Additionally you may be required to complete a capstone course involving comprehensive case reports.

Possible electives: Evidence-based exercise for the older adult, educational strategies for effective healthcare delivery, neurologic physical therapy

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Online doctoral degree programs are designed for individuals who want to work as licensed physical therapists. As physical therapists require clinical experience, these courses are normally in the form of hybrid courses whereby you can complete all the theoretical courses online but are required to be available for clinical practice at your school or at an accepted center.

Typical duration: Three years of full-time study; new students enrolling in a professional, entry-level DPT program may take 6 to 7 years

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree

Typical coursework: According to the APTA, most of the DPT curriculum is made up of classroom (didactic) and lab study. The rest is devoted to clinical education that can help students gain experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care.

You may typically find your courses include topics like:

  • Musculoskeletal anatomy
  • Basics of patient management
  • Life span motor control
  • Mechanics of gait
  • Principles of disease
  • Differential diagnosis in physical therapy

Additionally, you can be required to complete supervised clinical rotations at a nearby facility and may have to complete an internship as a part of your course.

What can I do after earning a doctor’s degree?

You can work as a licensed physical therapist after you have graduated from a DPT program. Students at this level can pursue specializations in the field through certifications.


Programs offering the DPT degree program need to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Physical Therapy Assistant programs are also accredited by CAPTE. CAPTE does not accredit physical therapy aide programs.

PTs may hold certifications from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in one or more of nine specialties:

  • Cardiovascular & Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women’s Health

Physical therapists and PTAs may also need to undergo criminal background checks and continuing education courses in order to keep their licenses. PTAs may also earn certifications in first aid skills like CPR or basic life support.

Each state sets its own licensing or registration requirements, but generally physical therapists and physical therapists assistants are required to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. There are no licensing requirements for physical therapy aides according to state law.

Employment Statistics

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners
  • Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals
  • Home Healthcare Services
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
  • Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Merced, CA
  • Hammond, LA
  • Morristown, TN
  • Victoria, TX
  • Longview, TX

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Scholarships and financial aid programs for online physical therapy programs may be available to eligible candidates through state and federal aid programs, private institutions and professional bodies. Some resources are:

Other resources for aspiring physical therapists

Many states have professional associations for physical therapists. Some of them are listed below.


  • Ashworth College, Career Diplomas, Physical Therapy Aide,, accessed June 2018
  • Atlanta Technical College, Physical Therapist Assistant Associate Degree Program,, accessed June 2018
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Fastest Growing Occupations,, accessed June 2018
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapists,, accessed June 2018
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides,, accessed June 2018
  • Bryant & Stratton College, Physical Therapist Assistant,, accessed June 2018
  • Clarkson College, Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant,, accessed June 2018
  • Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), FAQs: CAPTE and Accreditation,, accessed June 2018
  • Direct Access at the State Level, American Physical Therapy Association,, accessed August 2018
  • Direct Access in Practice, American Physical Therapy Association,, accessed August 2018
  • Fastest Growing Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, accessed August 2018
  • Landry et al, Workforce Projections 2010-2020: Annual Supply and Demand Forecasting Models for Physical Therapists Across the United States, Physical Therapy, Volume 96, Issue 1, 1 January 2016, Pages 71-80,, accessed June 2018
  • North Arizona University, Health Sciences – Physical Therapist Assisting Bachelor’s,, accessed June 2018
  • O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for: 31-2022.00 – Physical Therapist Aides,, accessed June 2018
  • O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for: 31-2021.00 – Physical Therapist Assistants,, accessed June 2018
  • Penn Foster Career School, Physical Therapy Aide Program,, accessed June 2018
  • Physical Therapist (PT) Education Overview, American Physical Therapy Association,
  • Physical Therapy Workforce in the United States: Forecasting Nationwide Shortages, American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, November 2010
  • Physical Therapists, Job Outlook, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics,, accessed August 2018
  • PIMA Medical Institute, Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant Program,, accessed June 2018
  • South University, Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant,, accessed June 2018
  • The Role of the Physical Therapist in National Health Care Reform, American Physical Therapy Association,, accessed August 2018
  • Zimbelman, JL, Juraschek, SP, Zhang, X, Lin, VW. Physical therapy workforce in the United States: forecasting nationwide shortages. PM R. 2010; 2:1021-1029
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