Physical therapists play an important role in helping ill or injured patients improve their mobility and reduce or manage pain. For individuals with back or neck injuries, sprains or strains, sports injuries, strokes, and many other conditions, physical therapists can assist in creating plans for recovery. Commonly, physical therapists prescribe exercises, help with stretching and hands-on manipulation, and use specialized equipment to help patients heal physically.
Becoming a physical therapist requires a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and a license from the state in which the therapist wishes to practice. Gaining a DPT license requires passing an exam. Usually a DPT degree is a 3-year program which requires a bachelor’s degree for admission. Many programs also require some background in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and biology and also include substantial clinical training.
In our study, we examined the best places in the nation for physical therapists to pursue their careers. Our study considered factors such as salaries for physical therapists, as well as the prevalence of jobs for physical therapists in specific metro areas.
AdvisorSmith’s study ranked 367 U.S. cities to determine the top cities for physical therapists in the nation. We list the top 50 cities for physical therapists, along with a breakdown of the top 10 small, midsize, and large cities for physical therapists.
Top Cities for Physical Therapists by City Size
Some physical therapists prefer to practice in small towns, while others prefer the hustle and bustle of the big city. In order to provide insight into the different types of cities where physical therapists can pursue their careers, we provide a breakdown of the best cities for physical therapists by city size. Large cities were those with metro area populations of more than 500K. Midsize cities had populations between 150K-500K, and small cities had populations less than 150K.
Best Cities for Physical Therapists
1. Gadsden, AL
As a small city in Alabama, Gadsden is ranked as the #1 city for physical therapists in our study. Physical therapists in the city earned an average annual salary of $106,790, while enjoying a cost of living that is 19% below the national average. Physical therapy jobs are plentiful in the city, with 187% more jobs for physical therapists on a per-capita basis compared with the national average. Major healthcare employers in the city include the Gadsden Regional Medical Center and the Riverview Regional Medical Center.
Located in northeastern Alabama along the Coosa River, Gadsden was an important river port and industrial center in the late 1800s. Important industries in the city included steel mills, tire factories, and other heavy industries. Today, the city has made progress on revitalizing its downtown and has created a Cultural Arts Center.
2. Hammond, LA
The city of Hammond, Louisiana is home to Southeastern Louisiana State University and is a small city that has 140 physical therapists. The average salary for Hammond’s physical therapists is $107,630 per year, and physical therapists benefit from a cost of living 10% below the national average. Hammond has twice as many physical therapists on a per-capita basis compared with the average U.S. city. Some of the largest medical employers in the city include North Oaks Medical Center and CARE, Inc.
Hammond is located about 45 miles northwest of the city of New Orleans, and the city was founded as a railroad town. In the early 1900s, the production of strawberries became an important industry for the city, as strawberries were grown, packed and shipped north from the city. The city built on this heritage, and today Hammond continues to be an important logistics and distribution center.
3. Punta Gorda, FL
Physical therapists in the Florida city of Punta Gorda earn an average annual salary of $101,760, and the cost of living in the city is about the same as the national average. There are approximately 190 physical therapists employed in the city, and it has 150% more physical therapist jobs per capita compared to the national average. Bayfront Health is the largest employer in the city, serving the city’s many retirees.
The city’s name comes from Spanish, meaning “Fat Point.” Punta Gorda is a midsize city located in the southwest portion of the state of Florida and has been a popular retirement community since the 1960s. The city is located in Charlotte Harbor, which is one of the largest natural harbors in the United States. It has several recreational offerings, including fishing and golf, and the city has year-round sunshine.
4. Cumberland, MD
Cumberland, Maryland, which is situated on the Potomac River in the western portion of Maryland, is a small city with about 140 physical therapists. The average salary for physical therapists in the city is $88,050, and the city’s cost of living is 15% below the national average. Cumberland also has 130% more physical therapist jobs per capita than the average nationwide.
In the 1800s, Cumberland was an important transportation gateway for roads, trains, and ships, and the city was the second largest in Maryland after Baltimore. With a decline in heavy industry in the 1950s, Cumberland lost a substantial number of jobs and experienced a decline in population. Modern-day Cumberland has a significant tourism offering, as visitors come to see the Arts & Entertainment District, the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, and the C&O Canal. A significant healthcare employer in Cumberland is the Western Maryland Health System.
5. Abilene, TX
Located near the center of the state, Abilene, Texas is a midsize city in Texas that has approximately 210 physical therapists who earn an average annual salary of $90,420. The city benefits from a very low cost of living that is 16% below the national average, and it also has 109% more physical therapist jobs on a per-capita basis compared with the national average.
The city was originally established as a railroad town on the Texas and Pacific Railway in the late 1800s, and it also hosted a major U.S. Army base in the 1940s, which subsequently closed. However, the town still hosts a U.S. Air Force base, Dyess Air Force Base, which has been open since the 1950s. Abilene has three major universities: Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene Christian University, and McMurry University. Large medical institutions in the city include Hendrick Health System and the Abilene Regional Medical Center.
Top 50 Cities for Physical Therapists
The most attractive cities for physical therapists are listed below. In our ranking, we include the name of the metro area, the size of the city, average physical therapist salaries, the number of jobs for physical therapists, the concentration of physical therapist jobs, and the cost of living index.
|Rank||City||City Size||Average Annual Salary||Total Jobs||Location Quotient||Cost of Living|
|3||Punta Gorda, FL||Midsize||$101,760||190||2.5||100|
|9||Johnson City, TN||Midsize||$93,980||210||1.74||83|
|17||Las Cruces, NM||Midsize||$106,660||150||1.39||90|
|18||Coeur d'Alene, ID||Midsize||$82,230||250||2.56||105|
|22||New Bern, NC||Small||$97,770||110||1.6||91|
|23||Homosassa Springs, FL||Small||$88,410||100||1.89||91|
|24||Great Falls, MT||Small||$116,580||60||1.12||95|
|27||Hot Springs, AR||Small||$86,860||100||1.74||90|
|35||Bay City, MI||Small||$91,530||60||1.16||82|
|44||Corpus Christi, TX||Midsize||$95,880||320||1.09||86|
|45||North Port, FL||Large||$91,110||880||1.89||108|
Our study considered several key factors in determining the best cities for physical therapists. These included physical therapist salaries, the location quotient for physical therapist jobs, and the relative cost of living in a city.
1. Average annual compensation for physical therapists
AdvisorSmith’s study compared cities based upon the salaries earned by physical therapists in each city. Cities with higher salaries ranked more highly in the study compared with cities with lower salaries. The average salary for physical therapists nationwide was $88,880.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for physical therapists is very positive, with a projected growth rate of 22% for the profession between 2018 and 2028, which is much higher than the average growth rate across all professions.
2. Location quotient for physical therapists
Another factor used in our study was the location quotient, which measures the concentration of jobs for physical therapists in a metro area relative to the total number of jobs in the area. A location quotient above 1 means that there is a higher concentration of jobs for physical therapists relative to the national average. In our study, metro areas with a higher location quotient were rated more highly, as a higher score means that there are more jobs available for physical therapists.
Approximately 247,700 physical therapists were employed in the United States in 2018 according to the BLS.
3. Relative cost of living
Physical therapist salaries in our study were adjusted by a cost of living factor for each metro area. Because the same salary in a low cost area provides much more purchasing power than in a high cost area, we scored areas with a lower cost of living more highly in our study. Since physical therapists are needed in metro areas of all sizes, we would expect that they would earn more in expensive metros, although this is not always the case. This effect is partially offset by the higher cost of living in these expensive metros.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics
 Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Index