Physical therapist assistants and aides are supervised by physical therapists to help patients regain movement and manage pain after injuries and illnesses.
What they do
Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses to regain movement and manage pain.
Physical therapist assistants are involved in the direct care of patients.
Physical therapist aides often have tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as cleaning and setting up the treatment area, moving patients, and doing clerical duties.
Physical therapist assistants typically do the following:
- Observe patients before, during, and after therapy, noting the patient’s status and reporting it to a physical therapist
- Help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care
- Treat patients using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching
- Use devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients
- Educate patients and family members about what to do after treatment
Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists, physical therapist assistants treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions. They record patients’ progress and report the results of each treatment to the physical therapist.
Physical therapist aides typically do the following:
- Clean treatment areas and set up therapy equipment
- Wash linens
- Help patients move to or from a therapy area
- Do clerical tasks, such as answering phones and scheduling patients
Physical therapist aides are supervised by physical therapists or physical therapist assistants. The tasks that physical therapist aides are allowed to do vary by state. They usually are responsible for keeping the treatment area clean and organized, preparing for each patient’s therapy, and helping patients as needed in moving to or from a treatment area. In addition, aides do a variety of clerical tasks, such as ordering supplies, scheduling treatment sessions, and completing insurance forms.
Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help and treat patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Assistants and aides can limit these risks by using proper techniques when they work with patients.
Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time, although part time work is common. Some work nights and weekends because many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.
How to become a Physical Therapist Assistant and/or Aide
Physical therapist assistants entering the occupation typically need an associate degree from an accredited program and a license or certification. Physical therapist aides usually need a high school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training.
All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Programs typically last about 2 years and include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Assistants also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work.
Physical therapist aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. They also usually need on-the-job training that can last from about one week to one month.
All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapist assistants. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states require that applicants pass an exam on the state’s laws regulating the practice of physical therapy assistants, undergo a criminal background check, and be at least 18 years old. Physical therapist assistants also may need to take continuing education courses to keep their license. Check with your state board for specific licensing requirements.
Additionally, physical therapy assistants may earn certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or other first-aid skills.
States do not require physical therapist aides to be licensed.
The median annual wage for physical therapist aides was $27,000 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,740.
The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $58,790 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,840.
Employment of physical therapist assistants is projected to grow 33 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of physical therapist aides is projected to grow 21 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for physical therapy is expected to increase in response to the health needs of an aging population, particularly the large baby-boom generation. This group is staying more active later in life than previous generations did. However, many baby boomers also are entering the prime age for heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries, increasing the demand for physical therapy needed for rehabilitation.
In addition, more physical therapist assistants and aides will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Moreover, medical and technological developments should permit an increased number of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating added demand for therapy and rehabilitative services.
Physical therapists are expected to rely on physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. After the physical therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a plan of care, the assistant provides many parts of the treatment, as directed by the therapist.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Physical Therapist Assistant (CPTA), Home Care Physical Therapy Assistant, Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant, Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (LPTA), Licensed Physical Therapy Assistant, Nurse Aide, Outpatient Physical Therapist Assistant, Per Diem Physical Therapist Assistant (Per Diem PTA), Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA), Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)
Clinical Rehabilitation Aide, Physical Therapist Aide (PTA), Physical Therapist Technician (Physical Therapy Tech), Physical Therapy Aide (PTA), Physical Therapy Attendant, Physical Therapy Technician, Rehabilitation Aide, Rehabilitation Attendant, Restorative Aide (RA), Restorative Care Technician
Registered Nurse, Psychiatric Technician, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurse, Occupation Therapy Aide, Medical Assistant
Home Health Aide, Occupational Therapy Aide, Veterinary Assistant and Laboratory Animal Caretaker, Childcare Worker, Personal Care Aide
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American College of Sports Medicine
- American Physical Therapy Association
- National Strength and Conditioning Association
- American Massage Therapy Association
- American Occupational Therapy Association
- National Athletic Trainers' Association
Magazines and Publications
- APTA Magazine
- Therapeutic Outlook Magazine
- Journal of Physical Therapy Education
- Advance for Physical Therapy and Rehab Medicine (.pdf)
For patients recovering from injuries or illness... the work to regain lost abilities or get relief from pain is supported by physical therapist assistants and aides. These healthcare workers have the stamina, compassion and skills to help patients get back on their feet. Working under the supervision of physical therapists, physical therapist-or PT-assistants provide direct care to patients... using massage, exercises, and specialized activities such as gait and balance training. They document patients' progress and report their observations to the physical therapist. To ensure progress is maintained after treatment, PT assistants also educate patients and their families about follow-up. Physical therapist aides prepare the treatment area for physical therapy, clean and set up equipment, and assist patients moving to and from treatment areas. Aides also order supplies, schedule therapy sessions, and complete insurance forms. Most assistants and aides work in physical therapists' offices or hospitals. They are in motion much of the day to see patients, set up equipment, and lift and move patients when needed. Physical therapist assistants need an associate degree from an accredited program, along with a state license or certification. Aides usually need a high school diploma or equivalent, and can expect to learn clinical skills on the job. Supporting patients through discouragement, fear and pain, PT assistants and aides help bring recovery goals ... within reach.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org