What Does a Physical Therapy Assistant Do?

physical therapy

Learning what physical therapy assistants do is essential before picking this in-demand health care career. Physical therapy assistants, or PTAs, are rehabilitation aides who help patients regain their strength after injury or illness and cope with chronic conditions. It’s their goal to get patients back on their feet and leading healthy, active lives without pain. As their title suggests, PTAs only treat patients when being supervised by a board-certified physical therapist. In 2019, the U.S. News & World Report recognized PTAs for having America’s 32nd best job. That’s because employment of PTAs is expected to skyrocket much faster than average by 31 percent through 2026. Physical therapy assistants also report high satisfaction, excellent benefits, low stress, and flexible schedules. This article will uncover everything prospective PTAs should know about what physical therapy assistants do and how to succeed.

Responsibilities of Physical Therapy Assistants

Physical therapy assistants are responsible for following the treatment plans PTs make for each patient’s needs. Their patients might be healing from back surgery, recovering from a stroke, dealing with a physical disability, or simply aging. Regardless of the case, PTAs are trained to teach motor exercises that aid mobility. Under supervision, PTAs lead patients through stretches, bends, weight lifting, and traction for muscle stimulation. Physical therapy assistants often integrate hands-on massaging to soothe pain in trigger points. PTAs use various fitness equipment like treadmills, stability balls, stationary bikes, and foam rollers to get patients moving. Each session, PTAs take notes of patient progress or regression to pass onto the physical therapist. Assistants sometimes do secretarial tasks, such as making appointments, printing bills, and ordering office inventory.

Where Physical Therapy Assistants Practice

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 88,300 physical therapy assistants in the United States. The majority of PTAs, around 45 percent, unsurprisingly work in physical therapy offices. Twenty-three percent are employed by public or private hospitals. Another 11 percent practice in nursing homes to support geriatric patients. Eight percent of PTAs work for home health care providers and travel with therapists right to patient homes. Physical therapy assistants are also found in doctors’ offices, schools, athletic training centers, military bases, and cardiopulmonary clinics. Some PTAs book short-term travel therapy gigs to serve at different agencies every few months. Improving patients’ movement provides PTAs with emotional rewards plus median pay of $57,430. Texas, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California currently have the highest number of physical therapy assistants.

Steps to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

What physical therapy assistants do requires some job-specific training in higher education. Most PTAs have earned a two-year associate degree from a junior or technical college. Others may add a vocational certificate in physical therapy to previous associate or bachelor’s degrees. Picking a PTA program approved by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is essential. Among the 350+ such options are Pima Medical Institute, Herzing University, Broward College, Delgado Community College, Finlandia University, and San Diego Mesa College. These high-quality degrees will satisfy qualifications for state PTA licensure. All 50 states require physical therapy assistants pass the 200-question NPTE Exam, criminal background check, and CPR-Basic Life Support course. PTA programs generally will integrate field-based clinical rotations to fulfill practice hours too.

Physical therapy assistants assume many different roles to ensure patients receive optimal care. From fitting prosthetic limbs to using ultrasound machines, PTAs are actively involved in making patients heal and gain confidence. However, assistants lack the authority to make patient diagnosis and treatment decisions. Gaining more clinical responsibility is only possible for PTAs who earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Advanced education would expand on what physical therapy assistants do and provide autonomy to design patient interventions oneself.

Related Resources: