Rehabilitation Therapy

Rehabilitation therapy is a hands-on health career that allows you to help others recover from injuries and re-adjust to life. Learn more about what this career field involves and what education you need to work as a rehabilitation therapist.

Is a Career in Rehabilitation Therapy for Me?

Career Overview

Injured athletes, elderly persons, those recovering from car accidents and many others rely upon rehabilitation therapy professionals to improve their quality of life and overall health. There are many different types of rehabilitation professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists or athletic trainers. All rehabilitation professionals work to help clients recover from or adjust to physical injuries or conditions. As a rehabilitation therapist, you might work for nursing homes, hospitals, specialized clinics, sports teams, colleges and universities, or you might choose to be self-employed as a personal trainer.

Physical Therapy Specialization

Physical therapists work directly with patients to help restore movement and function that has been lost due to physical conditions or injuries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the field of physical therapy will grow 36% from 2012-2022 ( According to the BLS, physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $81,030 in May 2013.

Occupational Therapy Specialization

Occupational therapy is another possible career path in the rehabilitation therapy field. If you choose to become an occupational therapist, you can help patients regain skills and movements associated with work, recreation or daily activities. The BLS estimated in May 2013 that occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $76,940. From 2012-2022, the BLS projects that occupational therapy employment will see a growth of 29%, much faster than the average for other occupations.

Athletic Training Specialization

Athletic trainers diagnose and treat sports-related injuries, most often working with sports teams, where they use preventative techniques to help athletes avoid injury. As an athletic trainer, you might work in a variety of settings, like a high school, physician's office, physical therapy clinic or professional sports team facility. Employment with youth sports leagues and colleges should increase. The BLS projects faster than average growth - at 21% - for the field overall from 2012-2022. The median annual salary for athletic trainers was $42,790 in May 2013.

How Can I Become a Rehabilitation Therapy Professional?

Education for Physical Therapists

In order to become a physical therapist, you need to obtain a bachelor's degree in a related field of study and successfully complete a Master's of Physical Therapy (M.P.T.) or Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) degree program through an accredited college or university. State licensure is also required for you to legally treat patients. The requirements for licensure vary by state but usually include having the necessary education credentials and passing a competency exam.

Education for Occupational Therapists

To become an occupational therapist, you need to complete a Master's of Occupational Therapy (M.O.T.) program through an accredited college or university. Similar to physical therapists, occupational therapists also have to be state licensed to treat patients. Certification is optional; however, the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy awards the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) designation once you pass the required exam.

Education for Athletic Trainers

If you are interested in becoming a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC), you first need to graduate from an accredited athletic training program. Most states also require you to be licensed. This requires you to pass the certification exam administered by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Board of Certification.

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