Earning a Master's in Physical Therapy Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Physical Therapy Online?

Physical therapy involves helping individuals overcome their struggles with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through physical movement. The field can provide a fulfilling career path for people with compassion, interpersonal skills, and an interest in medicine and biology. However, physical therapy master's programs online do not prepare students to become physical therapists; that profession requires a doctor of physical therapy degree. Students might opt to pursue a master's before continuing on to their doctorate. Alternatively, a master's in physical therapy also opens up many other job opportunities, like working as an athletic trainer or finding management positions at rehabilitation centers.

Opting for a master's in physical therapy online -- rather than a traditional on-campus program -- can allow working professionals to keep their full-time jobs while studying. The flexible and often asynchronous format of online coursework allows students to pursue a degree on their own time. Prospective physical therapy students can find more useful information on the degree and potential careers below.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Physical Therapy Graduates

Master's in Physical Therapy Salary

Salaries for master's in physical therapy online graduates depend on several factors: location, industry or sector, and number of years in the industry, to name a few. Physical therapy graduates typically find jobs in positions that help patients with injuries, disabilities, or illnesses -- but these professionals do not only work in healthcare facilities. They may also find employment through educational services or at fitness and recreational sports centers. The tables below outline salary information for athletic trainers based on two factors: the first table offers an overview of the annual median wage in various industries, while the second table shows salaries by experience level.

Salaries for Athletic Trainers by Industry

Industry Annual Mean Wage
Educational Services; State, Local, and Privat $49,460
Hospital; State, Local, and Private $46,130
Fitness and Recreational Sports Centers $44,150
Offices of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists, and Audiologists $43,640

Master's in Physical Therapy Careers

While a master's in physical therapy online does not lead to a job as a physical therapist, a master's does provide training for several other job opportunities, such as athletic trainers and exercise physiologists. Many of these careers involve caring for patients after an injury or illness, but an online master's in sports medicine or physical therapy can also help job seekers find management and leadership positions.

Athletic Trainer

Annual Median Salary: $46,630

Athletic trainers work with sports professionals and help athletes suffering from injuries. If a soccer player hurts their foot, for instance, an athletic trainer would diagnose the injury, provide first aid care, and develop a treatment plan. Athletic trainers also educate athletes about preventative measures to avoid injuries.

Exercise Physiologist

Annual Median Salary: $49,090

These professionals help patients with chronic diseases -- or sometimes patients who simply want better overall health -- through fitness routines. They develop exercise plans to improve patient's cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and endocrine systems. Exercise physiologists guide patients through their exercise, and they perform blood pressure and oxygen usage tests to monitor progress.

Rehabilitation Director

Annual Median Salary: $90,054

Rehabilitation directors manage rehabilitation departments, facilities, or the places where patients receive recovery care after an illness or injury. A rehabilitation director supervises, hires, trains, and leads a team of workers. Sometimes these professionals also work directly with patients.

Recreational Therapist

Annual Median Salary: $39,499

Recreational therapists aid sick patients in leisure activities like arts and crafts, games, and sports. Sometimes patients participate in recreational therapy because it helps them with the recovery process. Other patients with chronic illnesses, injuries, or disabilities use recreational therapy as a way to adjust to their conditions. Recreational therapists assess patients' conditions and medical histories and guide them through therapeutic programs.

Physical Therapy Manager

Annual Median Salary: $82,144

Physical therapy managers oversee facilities or departments that administer physical therapy services. They supervise staff, manage operations, and direct finances. These professionals also often work with patients, evaluating them and providing care. Physical therapy managers can find jobs at nursing homes, schools, hospitals, private physical clinics, sports facilities, and rehabilitation centers.

Source: PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Physical Therapy Program?

Every online master's degree in physical therapy offers a different curriculum. Still, prospective students can generally expect to find courses covering human anatomy and treatment methods for physical therapy patients. They may also take courses on special topics, like the healthcare system, ethics, or business skills. Usually, master's degrees in this field require students to complete research.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Physical Therapy

Clinical Anatomy for Physical Therapy

Before students dive into specialized courses, schools often require this foundational course. Students learn about the human body, covering topics like kinesiology, neurology, and osteology from clinical and medical perspectives. These topics cover basic knowledge of human anatomy that more advanced courses build upon later in the curriculum.

Neuropathology

Neuroscience involves the study of the nervous system, while neuropathology focuses on diseases. Learners study neuroscience concepts, like the brain's involvement in sensory and motor systems, skeletal muscle contraction, and spinal reflexes. The course also goes over problems such as peripheral nerve injuries and neuromuscular conditions.

Health Care Issues in Physical Therapy

In addition to learning the science behind physical therapy, students must understand the healthcare system. Healthcare delivery systems affect how physical therapy professionals can give care, so graduates should feel prepared for the role of the physical therapist within the larger system. Students also cover major healthcare topics and debate current issues.

Musculoskeletal Pathology

This course covers musculoskeletal mechanical properties and dysfunctions. Learners read about the growth of muscles and tissue, in addition to diseases and disorders that can disrupt the normal musculoskeletal functionings. The course also looks at how to therapeutically treat or resolve problems with muscle and tissue.

Therapeutic Exercise

One way physical therapists help patients struggling with physical conditions and diseases involves movement and exercise. This course explores the general functions and benefits of exercise over the human lifespan. It also teaches students about how to treat specific problems through particular types of exercise, depending on a patient's current condition and medical history.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Physical Therapy Prepares For

  • Athletic Trainer Certification: Almost all states require athletic trainers to possess certification to work. Candidates must take an accredited course and pass an exam conducted by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer. The certification exam includes five major areas: injury prevention, assessment and diagnosis, emergency care, therapeutic intervention, and healthcare administration.
  • ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist: Exercise physiologists can earn professional credentials through the American College of Sports Medicine. The certification exam tests professionals on topics in health and fitness assessment, exercise prescription and implementation, risk management, and exercise counseling and behavior modification. Candidates need at least a bachelor's degree and adult CPR certification.

Professional Organizations and Resources

A great way for students to get a headstart in the professional world involves joining professional organizations. These groups can help students meet experienced workers through conferences and other meetups. They also typically deliver networking events and career services, which can provide a significant advantage to job seekers. Several potential professional organizations in this field exist, depending on the specific career students aim to pursue. For instance, interested graduates and students can find associations for athletic trainers, recreation therapists, and exercise physiologists. Read about five of these organizations -- and five other resources -- below.

  • The National Athletic Trainers' Association: This association provides resources for athletic trainer certification and several other opportunities for athletic trainers. Members can access the career center, attend conferences and conventions, and read about the latest research in the field.

  • The National Rehabilitation Association: The NRA connects professionals working in the rehabilitation through local and regional chapters. The NRA hosts a disability employment summit and allows members to access exclusive resources online.

  • American Therapeutic Recreation Association: Founded in 1984, this organization supports recreational therapists by providing research grant opportunities, offering continuing education opportunities, and sponsoring scholarships for students. Members also receive discounts on publications and can search the group's career center.

  • American Physical Therapy Association: APTA provides a professional space for physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and students to connect. Membership benefits include a subscription to the APTA academic journal, access to a clinical toolbox, and an email newsletter with job openings.

  • American Society of Exercise Physiologists: This association helps exercise physiology professionals grow in their field. Members may join state chapters, network at conferences, earn certification, and subscribe to the group's scholarly journals.

  • PEDro: PEDro functions as a database for tens of thousands of randomized trials and clinical practice guidelines for professionals in the physiotherapy industry. Students conducting research may find this website helpful, as they can search for studies within the database.

  • The National Rehabilitation Information Center: This organization offers helpful material on the rehabilitation industry online -- visitors can search the resource-filled knowledgebase and find articles, books, and reports.

  • Rehab World: Students and recent graduates looking for employment should bookmark the Rehab World website. Rehab World is a job posting site, with positions in physical, occupational, behavioral, and speech therapy.

  • Physiobase forum: Professionals working in the physiotherapy industry can connect with others in their field through this forum. Essentially a professional social network, users can ask for advice on topics like patient care or medical insurer issues, or they can answer others' questions with their own advice.