Topics on this page:

The Best States for Physical Therapists

best states for physical therapists

What are the best states to be a physical therapist? While working as a PT is one of the most fulfilling and highest-paying allied healthcare careers, there may be some states that are more desirable to practice than others. This rehabilitative professional career is an outstanding choice for those who love being fit, are excited by medical knowledge, and are looking for high job satisfaction.

Even more, the physical therapy profession has an outstanding work/life balance, plus PTs can work in various settings, such as nursing care facilities, ski resorts, beach areas, or metropolitan areas. Or they can work as traveling PTs.

The PT specialty is always in high demand. But where in the United States are the highest average salaries? And what about job growth, cost of living, and quality of life? All of these are important factors when deciding where to live and grow your practice.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Physical therapists treat movement issues, improving the quality of life for their patients through education, exercise, and hands-on care. They work with patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. Their patients might suffer from injuries, disabilities, or other health conditions, or they might just want to lead healthier lives.

Physical therapists have a profound impact on the lives of their patients, helping many regain their independence, deal with pain, or achieve fitness and movement goals.

Malpractice Insurance for Physical Therapists

The History of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy has a long history, with roots as far back as ancient Greece. Hippocrates first advocated using manual therapy techniques, hydrotherapy, and massage for his patients in 435 BCE.

The discipline began to take its modern shape starting in the late 1800s in Europe as a way to treat bone disorders. Like other modern medical treatments, physical therapy rapidly advanced from there, spurred by events such as polio outbreaks and two world wars.

Some milestones include:

  • The formation of what is today’s American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in 1924
  • The primary use of traction, massage, and exercise through the 1940s
  • Manipulative therapies for joints and spine beginning in the 1950s
  • The move to outpatient care clinics starting in the late 1950s

What Physical Therapists Treat Today

Today physical therapists are an essential component of the healing process, treating medical conditions such as:

  • Back and neck pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Joint replacement
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Range of motion issues
  • Respiratory issues
  • Sports injuries

That’s a limited list that could go on and on. The range of conditions PTs treat is vast, offering many options for specialization.

Some areas of specialization physical therapists pursue include:

Geriatric physical therapy

These specialists help the elderly address the mobility and movement issues that come with age. Some conditions include osteoporosis, arthritis, and some cancers.

Hand physical therapy

Centering on the entire upper arm and the hand, when people have injured themselves or have arthritis, exercises help them regain their range of motion.

Neurological physical therapy

These PTs help patients regain function after experiencing neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, strokes, and spine or brain injuries.

Occupational physical therapy

This therapy treats those impacted by work-related activities, often manual labor impacts from improper lifting or poor posture. Occupational physical therapy focuses heavily on core and upper-body strength.

Pediatric physical therapy

This therapy helps patients at the opposite end from geriatric care. Genetic conditions, severe injuries, head trauma, or congenital disabilities could result in mobility issues for infants or toddlers.

Rehabilitative physical therapy

A major surgery could dramatically impact mobility and movement, requiring rehabilitative physical therapy.

The Average Physical Therapist Salary

According to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Jobs of 2023, physical therapy ranks third among the 2023 top healthcare jobs in the U.S. On top of having some of the highest projected job growth numbers (PT jobs are expected to grow by 17% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS]), physical therapy turns out to be one of the more lucrative healthcare professions in the country as well, with a high average annual salary. As of May 2022, the annual mean physical therapy salary (meaning the average of a sample of salaries) was $97,960.

PT salaries do vary by state and types of settings (urban versus rural areas, for example). Weighing location matters because an average income in a less-expensive location might result in more significant take-home pay. A PT in San Francisco, California, for example, might earn far beyond the average PT salary, but the higher cost of living and significantly higher state income taxes in California would eat into those earnings.

Where you live can play a big role in how your career shapes up. To help you determine where you have the best chances for both professional and personal satisfaction, we’ve identified four key factors that contribute to states’ being considered the “best” (or “worst”) to work in as a PT:

  • Salary
  • Affordability/Cost of Living
  • Job Demand
  • Quality of Life

The Best & Worst States for Physical Therapists

For each metric, we pulled the latest data from the BLS and U.S. News & World Report. Then we identified which states ranked the highest and lowest for PTs along all four categories.

The Best & Worst States for Physical Therapists: Salary

To dig into the earning potential of PTs — and how salaries vary by state — we looked at data from the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics (OES). Below are the five highest paying states for physical therapy and the five lowest paying ones.

The 5 Highest-Paying States for Physical Therapists

Rank State Annual Mean Salary for Physical Therapists Hourly Mean Wage for Physical Therapists
1 California $114,230 $54.92
2 Nevada $105,880 $50.90
3 New Jersey $105,430 $50.69
4 Alaska $104,470 $50.23
5 Connecticut $103,920 $49.96
### The Lowest-Paying States for Physical Therapists While the BLS did not publish the specific ranking of states 6-50, they did indicate that the following states have the lowest annual mean wage, falling between $48,820 and $89,570:
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont

The Best & Worst States for Physical Therapists: Affordability/Cost of Living

Cost of living is a really important factor to consider when determining your earning potential. To help you get a more accurate picture, we’ve turned to U.S. News' 2023 affordability rankings to find out which states are considered the most (and least) affordable.

To determine how affordable each state was, U.S. News gave it scores on two metrics: cost of living and housing affordability. Based on those scores, each state then received an overall ranking on a scale of 1 to 50, with 1 being the most affordable and 50 being the least.

The 5 Most Affordable States for Physical Therapists

Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
1 Mississippi 1 1
2 Alabama 2 4
3 Arkansas 4 3
4 Kentucky 3 5
5 West Virginia 9 2

The 5 Least Affordable States for Physical Therapists

Rank State Cost of Living Score Housing Affordability Score
46 Washington 46 44
47 New York 48 47
48 New Jersey 47 48
49 Hawaii 50 49
50 California 49 50

The Best & Worst States for Physical Therapists: Job Demand

When determining whether a state is the "best" or "worst" to work in as a PT, one key factor to consider is not only how much demand there currently is for your particular skill set but also how much demand there will be in the future. (You can think about this in terms of job security.)

To assess current employment levels, we looked at the most recent BLS’s OES statistics (May 2022). Next, we turned to job demand projection data from Projection Central to show you the five states that are predicted to have the most physical therapy jobs between 2020 and 2030, and the five that are predicted to have the least. We’ve also provided the job growth percentages for the states as well.

The 5 States With the Highest Employment Levels for Physical Therapists (May 2022)

Rank State Employment Numbers Employment per thousand jobs
1 California 24,100 1.37
2 Texas 16,280 1.25
3 New York 15,300 1.68
4 Florida 14,970 1.63
5 Pennsylvania 11,670 2.01

The 5 States With the Highest Projected Demand for Physical Therapists (2020-2030)

Rank State Projected Number of PT Job Openings per Year Job Growth Percentage
1 California 1,550 19%
2 Texas 1,150 28%
3 New York 1,370 28%
4 Florida 1,040 25%
5 Pennsylvania 770 20%

The Best & Worst States for Physical Therapists: Quality of Life

Everyone defines “quality of life” a little differently, so to establish a standard unit of measurement, we turned to U.S. News 2022 best states rankings — specifically its "Overall Best States" list. First, analysts ranked each state for the following eight metrics:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Economy
  • Infrastructure
  • Opportunity
  • Fiscal Stability
  • Crime & Corrections
  • Natural Environment

Then the analysts used those sub-rankings to provide each state with an overall ranking. (You can read more about their methodology here.) Below, we've provided you with the rankings for the top five and bottom five, along with their rankings for each metric.

The 5 Best States for Physical Therapists' Quality of Life

Rank State Healthcare Score Education Score Economy Score Infrastructure Score Opportunity Score Fiscal Stability Score Crime & Corrections Score Natural Environment Score
1 Utah 7 5 1 4 20 1 15 46
2 Washington 11 10 13 6 31 4 19 4
3 Idaho 14 22 2 10 19 2 9 23
4 Nebraska 23 7 10 5 16 11 26 12
5 Minnesota 15 21 15 1 9 21 20 7

The 5 Worst States for Physical Therapists' Quality of Life

Rank State Healthcare Score Education Score Economy Score Infrastructure Score Opportunity Score Fiscal Stability Score Crime & Corrections Score Natural Environment Score
46 West Virginia 50 47 47 50 18 32 18 41
47 New Mexico 38 50 44 44 41 15 47 32
48 Mississippi 49 41 49 47 36 40 34 16
49 Alaska 37 49 46 45 33 33 48 44
50 Louisiana 45 46 50 49 48 38 50 49

Physical Therapy As a Career

While the potential earnings for a physical therapist are fabulous, this career comes with many other perks. The ability to find a job anywhere, excellent work/life balance, ongoing career growth, and opportunities for specialization and continuous learning make this one of the most desirable careers.

But how do you decide where to live and practice? You might want to start with the Quality of Life chart, and then look at salary and affordability options in those states.

Either way, physical therapists get to know they make a difference in their patients' lives and see the results as they work with them. Whether they work with toddlers, GenZ, or Boomers, PTs improve lives across generations- no matter which state they're in.

Want to expand your physical therapy career? Learn more about how to start your own Physical Therapy practice.

Image courtesy of

Last updated on Jan 23, 2024.

Originally published on Apr 07, 2022.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

How we use your email address