What Does a Physical Therapy Assistant Do?
If you get satisfaction out of helping someone reach a goal, here’s a job to consider. Physical therapy assistants, sometimes called PTAs, work one-on-one with patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses to regain movement and manage pain. They help people live healthy, active lives.
Physical therapy assistants work under the direct supervision of a physical therapist. Assistants’ tasks vary by state, but they often include exercise, massage, balance training, stretching and resistance training.
A related job is a physical therapy aide, who performs tasks indirectly related to patient care, such as setting up the treatment area.
PTAs provide patient care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports facilities, work settings and nursing homes.
Demand for this industry is expected to grow 33% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Observe patients before, during and after therapy
- Communicate that information to a physical therapist
- Treat patients using massage and other techniques that include use of specific equipment
- Teach patients how to do specific exercises and and stretches
- Educate patients about how to care for themselves after treatment, or work with family members to do this
- Document treatment and patient’s progress
- Set up and maintain room and equipment used for treatment
A high school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training is typically required for entry-level physical therapist aides. Physical therapy assistants must earn an associate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Programs for physical therapy assistants offer coursework in anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. During this time, assistants gain clinical experience through hands-on, supervised work.
All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam. Most states do not require physical therapy aides to be licensed. Some states require students to pass an additional exam, undergo a background check and be at least 18 years of age.
Many assistants take continuing education courses to keep their licenses and to stay up to date.
- Are detail-oriented
- Have excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Are compassionate and enjoy helping others improve their health
- Have good dexterity
- Have the physical stamina to work with patients all day, including kneeling, stooping, bending and spending extended time on your feet.