Physical Therapist Assistant

Certified Physical Therapist Assistant (CPTA), Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant   More Names
Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (LPTA), Outpatient Physical Therapist Assistant, Per Diem Physical Therapist Assistant (Per Diem PTA), Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA), Physical Therapist Assistant and Nurse Aide, Physical Therapist Assistants, Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA), Physical Therapy Technician (Physical Therapy Tech), Physiotherapy Assistant, Rehabilitation Aide, Rehabilitation Assistant, Staff Physical Therapy Assistant

Perform assigned and routine tasks under close supervision of the physical therapist (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA).Tasks assigned will dependent upon state regulations, facility policies, and physical therapists' preferences. Often transport patients to and from treatment areas using wheelchairs or other equipment.

Assist physical therapists in providing physical therapy treatments that improve physical mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or lessen the effects of disabilities. They also teach, motivate, safeguard, and aid patients.

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) may provide interventions such as therapeutic exercises and manual therapy, including massage therapy and aquatic (water) therapy exercises. They also may use heat, light, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation; mechanical traction; gait (walking) and balance activities; as well as functional activities. In addition, they instruct patients in the proper use of equipment, such as braces, crutches, walkers, and other aids to recovery.

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of one or more physical therapists. They are employed mainly in outpatient physical therapy centers, skilled nursing facilities, and multi-system health centers. Many also work in other settings such as schools and home health care service agencies. PTAs also may own or co-own a physical therapy practice.

Physical therapist assistants help to treat patients who are recovering from automotive, home, or workplace accidents or injuries. They also work to assist those who are suffering with disabling conditions such as lower-back pain, arthritis, fractures, head injuries, or cerebral palsy.

Physical therapist assistants need to be well-organized, detail-oriented and caring. They also need to be able to solve problems, take directions and work well as part of a team. They require at least a moderate degree of strength because of the need to assist with treatments like exercising patients' arms or legs, or helping them walk. They often transport patients to and from treatment areas, helping to lift, transfer, and position them for therapy. In some cases, they also secure patients in or on therapy equipment.

During treatment sessions, PTAs make observations and take measurements of patient responses to treatment. They also document the patient treatment, outcomes and responses in the medical record and report patient outcomes to the physical therapist. They provide instruction to patients, family members or caregivers about on-going treatment activities, progress, and plans as written in the physical therapists' plan of care.

Physical therapist assistants' careers and work activities should not be confused with that of physical therapist aides or technicians, who also work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists and - where allowed by law - physical therapist assistants.

Physical therapist aides usually are responsible for keeping the treatment area clean and organized, and ready for the next patient's therapy. They also assist in moving patients to and from the treatment area. Their duties usually include clerical tasks such as answering telephones, ordering supplies, or filling out insurance forms and other paperwork. Because they are on-the-job trained and do not complete formal education like physical therapist assistants, in most settings aides are not permitted to perform the wide-range of clinical and therapeutic tasks routinely performed by physical therapist assistants.

The career pathway for a physical therapist assistant may include additional formal training to earn a bachelor's degree or higher in healthcare related majors or a doctorate degree in physical therapy to become a physical therapist. PTAs also can become practice owners, practice managers, physical therapist assistant educators, or seek careers outside of physical therapy such as equipment sales or other related healthcare positions.

Credentials Needed: All 50 states and the District of Columbia (plus Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) require that physical therapist assistants graduate from a PTA Program that has attained accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Accredited PTA programs award an associate's degree and include classroom and laboratory instruction on a college campus as well as hands-on clinical education experiences. Forty-nine (49) states (Hawaii is the exception) and the District of Columbia require physical therapist assistants to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and obtain certification or licensure to qualify to treat patients in that state.

Most states also require that physical therapist assistant candidates have completed their training in CPR and First Aid, and some also require them to pass a state ethics and legal responsibilities exam.

Among the general provisions to watch for when reviewing state licensing requirements are minimum age limits and restrictions due to a criminal background record or problems with alcohol or substance abuse. To check what your state may require regarding licensing or other credentials for physical therapist assistants, use this link to The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Some Key Things to Remember: Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of one or more highly-trained physical therapists. Physical therapist assistants usually need a minimum of a two-year associate degree for this career, and many employers require this credential as a condition for hiring. All states except Hawaii require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Most jobs are in outpatient physical therapy centers, skilled nursing facilities, and health systems that may include hospitals and rehabilitation centers. The career pathway for a physical therapist assistant may include additional formal training to become a physical therapist or other related healthcare professional.

Reviewed for content and accuracy by the American Physical Therapy Association, February 14, 2012.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
41% - Much faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $45,840 - $66,860    Hourly: $22 - $32
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

During the course of a normal work day, physical therapist assistants have to physically lift and otherwise move patients. They also may retrieve the equipment used for a particular therapy from storage closets or other treatment rooms.

As a result, physical therapist assistants should be prepared to lift at least 30 to 50 pounds. They should be able to squat, twist, reach and bend, and should be able to demonstrate any exercise to their clients. Light to moderate weight and aerobic training usually are enough to meet these physical requirements. However, physical therapist assistants also must be mindful of their diets, as a balanced diet will give them the energy to work with patients/clients and avoid unnecessary weight gain or other physical problems that may limit employment.

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Legal Requirements
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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

41% - Much faster than average
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Typical Wages:

Annual: $45,840 - $66,860

Hourly: $22 - $32