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  • Grace Christiansen

3 Proven Ways to Combat Physical Therapist Burnout

You just finished seeing your last patient of the day. It was a challenging appointment, to say the least. It is already 7 pm and you are too exhausted to workout or meet up with a friend as you had planned. If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone.

For many reasons, physical therapist burnout is on the rise. Between pressure from patients, long days, and financial concerns, it is no wonder that many physical therapists are questioning whether it is time for a career change.

Luckily, there are some ways that the heavy burden that physical therapists carry can be lightened. Understanding what physical therapist burnout is and why it happens is an important part of figuring out the solution. Once we acknowledge and understand the problem of physical therapist burnout, the industry as a whole can work together toward the solutions.

In the meantime, here are some things you can implement immediately in your day-to-day work to help prevent physical therapist burnout.

  • Positive mentors/colleagues

  • Work/life balance

  • Update your office technology

What is Physical Therapist Burnout?

Currently happening in many different fields of work, burnout is defined as extreme exhaustion either emotional or physical due to extreme demands from the workplace. It seems that the burnout rate is higher in jobs that are high stress. The percentages are also higher in jobs that are constantly working to help people (like physical therapists).

While burnout is often thought of as exhaustion, it can also show itself in other ways as well. Feeling disconnected from or indifferent to your patients is one of the main signs of physical therapist burnout. Physical therapist burnout can also show itself in a feeling of pointlessness or feeling like what you are doing isn’t as significant or as important as you once thought it was.

Many health care professionals get into the industry to help people. However, they often are met with contempt or anger from the very people they are trying to help. Though this anger and aggression is often misplaced, and most commonly related to frustration with an injury, it can still be difficult for therapists to deal with. This is just one of the many reasons why clinical burnout is so common.

Why does Clinical Burnout Happen?

In a recent survey by The National Library of Medicine, over half of the physical therapists surveyed said they were currently experiencing burnout. This startling number passes the burnout rate of physicians and many other medical workers.

So why are physical therapists experiencing burnout at such a high rate? There are many reasons why a therapist might feel burnt out but here are a few of the most common.

Long and exhausting hours

Many physical therapists find themselves working well over the average 8 hour work day. On top of the long hours, many therapists are not compensated appropriately. The fact that physical therapists are also on their feet most of the day makes their day more exhausting physically than a typical desk job and can contribute to physical therapist burnout. A study by the PTJ found that the majority of physical therapists even report having work-related pains.

Pressure from patients

Most people who become physical therapists go into the industry with the goal of helping others feel better. For such a noble act, they often are not met with the positive reaction they were hoping for. Unfortunately, physical therapists are often met by patients who are annoyed by being asked to do exercises or are angry they aren’t seeing immediate results (even if they aren’t doing their home exercises). When many face clinic directors who are more concerned about patient satisfaction than employee satisfaction, physical therapist burnout is bound to follow.


Most prospective physical therapists are completely unaware of the amount of paperwork required to perform the job. Unfortunately, studies show that therapists spend 20% of their time on average doing paperwork. Spending this much time on paperwork can play a big part in employee dissatisfaction and physical therapist burnout.

With the already heavy workload physical therapists face, finding time to complete paperwork can be challenging. Many physical therapists even have to spend their breaks and lunchtime completing paperwork in order to keep their productivity levels up.

The Solution to Physical Therapist Burnout

While there is no one quick fix to physical therapist burnout, there are many things you can do on a daily basis to help renew your love for your job.

Find a mentor and positive colleagues

The people you are surrounded with greatly impact your mindset and attitude. This is true when it comes to coworkers and mentors. Studies show that 91% of workers who have mentors are satisfied with their jobs. They also benefit from increased confidence.

While some physical therapists are lucky enough to find good colleagues and mentors at their own office, some might have to look to outside sources. Luckily, there are many networks and associations for physical therapists both in-person and online.

Many physical therapists find mentorship and community from networks provided through whatever school they went to. Professional organizations such as the American Physical Therapy Association also provide mentorship opportunities.

Focus on your work-life balance

Most of us can agree that having a good work-life balance is important and can help prevent physical therapy burnout. However, this is easier said than done. Here are a few realistic ways that you can improve your work-life balance.

Start with something small. Decide on one aspect of your day that you can change to help alleviate stress. Maybe it is taking your whole lunch break without doing any paperwork or not checking your email once you get home at night. These things seem small or unimportant but they can make a big difference in your work-life balance.

Do something you enjoy when you get off of work. After a long day of work, nothing sounds better than sitting on the couch and watching tv all night. But taking the time to do something you enjoy just a few times a week can be refreshing and greatly improve your mindset.

Technology has certainly helped our world in many ways, but when we have constant access to our work and our work to us, it can make the workday never-ending. Unplugging while you are not at work will leave you more refreshed for the next day and will help prevent physical therapist burnout.

Update your office technology

In order to truly be able to focus on work-life balance without sacrificing productivity, efficiency must be improved. Updating your office technology is the easiest way to do this. While switching to an all-in-one software system might seem like one more thing added to your to-do list, this will definitely save you and your practice time and energy in the long run.

While there isn’t one specific or easy way to fix physical therapy burnout, there are certainly many different solutions that can help ease the burden. In order to truly have the time and balance you need to fight against the exhausting hours full of patient pressures and paperwork, your office technology needs to be as efficient as possible.

Follow the link to find out how switching to a complete practice management software system can help you fight physical therapy burnout and improve your day-to-day work life.