Physical therapy and occupational therapy are distinct professions that earn similar rates of pay. Nationwide, physical therapists earn slightly more on average than occupational therapists – $81,110 annually compared to $76,400, according to May 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. In some metropolitan areas, however, occupational therapists make more than physical therapists.
Functions of Physical and Occupational Therapists
Physical therapists help people with chronic illness or injury to manage pain and improve mobility. Occupational therapists help people with disabilities, and those with illness or injury, to improve tasks for everyday living and working. A physical therapist uses exercises and hands-on techniques, and provides education and a treatment plan to the patient. An occupational therapist assists patients with specific tasks, such as helping an autistic child with play activities. An occupational therapist also demonstrates relevant exercises, recommends appropriate assistance equipment, and educates family members and caregivers.
Physical therapists are generally paid better than occupational therapists. The bottom 10 percent of physical therapist wage earners took home an average of $55,620 in May 2012, and the top 10 percent got an average of $112,020. In comparison, occupational therapy was less lucrative: an average of $50,500 for the bottom 10 percent and $107,070 for the top 10 percent. The average hourly wage for physical therapists in the U.S. was $38.99 in May 2012 and $36.73 for occupational therapists.
In some specific areas of the U.S., the national trend is bucked, with occupational therapists earning more than physical therapists. For example, the BLS reports that in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, California, occupational therapists made an average of $89,890 in May 2012, while physical therapists made $88,430. In other areas, physical therapists make more, but by a far more significant margin than the national average. In Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine, physical therapists made an average annual, full-time wage of $82,850, while occupational therapists made only $65,780.
The BLS notes that physical therapists who work independently or are partners in a practice have to pay for their own benefits and have to hire employees. Most therapists in both professions work full time, but as of 2010 approximately 29 percent of physical therapists and 30 percent of occupational therapists worked part-time.