A career as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) can be very rewarding. Physical therapy assistants help patients reduce pain and regain movement.

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Job Tasks:

  • Administer active or passive manual therapeutic exercises, therapeutic massage, aquatic physical therapy, or heat, light, sound, or electrical modality treatments, such as ultrasound.

  • Instruct, motivate, safeguard and assist patients as they practice exercises or functional activities.

  • Observe patients during treatments to compile and evaluate data on their responses and progress and provide results to physical therapist in person or through progress notes.

  • Confer with physical therapy staff or others to discuss and evaluate patient information for planning, modifying or coordinating treatment.

  • Fit patients for orthopedic braces, protheses or supportive devises such as crutches.

  • Administer traction to relieve neck or back pain, using intermittent or static traction equipment.

  • Measure patient’s range-of-joint motion, body parts or vital signs to determine effects of treatments or for patient evaluations

  • Assist patients to dress, undress or put on and remove supportive devises such as braces, splints or slings.

  • Prepare treatment areas and electrotherapy equipment for use by physiotherapists.

  • Clean work area and check and store equipment after treatment.

Skills and Abilities Needed to Perform Job:

  • Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat injuries, diseases and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions and preventive health-care measures.

  • Knowledge of principles, methods, and procedures for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of physical and mental dysfunctions, and for career counseling guidance.

  • Knowledge of psychology relative to human behavior and performance, individual differences in ability, personality and interests; learning and motivation, psychological research methods and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.

  • Knowledge and use of medical software (BioEx Systems Exercise Pro, Rehab Documentation Company ReDoc Suite, etc.)

  • Knowledge and use of Microsoft software programs (Excel, Word and Office)

  • Oral Comprehension – Ability to listen to and understand information presented through spoken words.

  • Oral Expression – Ability to communicate information in speaking so that others will understand.

  • Written Comprehension – Ability to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.

  • Problem Sensitivity – Ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong.

  • Static Strength and Trunk Strength – Ability to exert maximum muscle force to lift, push, pull or carry objects; ability to use abdominal and lower back muscles to support parts of the body repeatedly over time without fatiguing.

Desired Work Style Attributes:

  • Concern for Others – Sensitive to needs of others

  • Integrity – Honest and ethical

  • Dependability – Reliable and responsible

  • Cooperation – Pleasant with others

  • Attention to details

Education Requirements:

Physical Therapist Assistant vs. Physical Therapist Aide

Working in the field of physical therapy has several entry points, all which come with varying requirements in terms of education, certification, and experience. This enables individuals of many diverse backgrounds and ambitions to get involved in this engaging field and best develop a long-term plan of action for further involvement and the most fulfilling career.

There are differences between a physical therapist assistant and an aide, with the distinguishing factor being training. While a physical therapist aide usually only has a high school diploma, an assistant usually has obtained an Associate Degree from a community college. While aides do not have to be licensed, a physical therapy assistant must pass a certifying examination once they have completed their coursework and are preparing to seek employment. Assistants must also take continuing education courses to stay licensed.

Physical therapy aides are often much more restricted in their responsibilities due to their limited education. Tasks include helping patients into or out of the therapy area, cleaning treatment areas, washing linens, and the handling of clerical tasks. The average salary for physical therapy aides typically is around $23,880.

Obtaining a position as a physical therapy assistant is often more desired than an aide position, primarily because of the increase in pay and responsibilities. The education required for physical therapy positions is typically an associate degree from an accredited college or university, along with certifications such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Additionally, to work as a physical therapy assistant, licensure must be acquired by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. The mean annual wage for physical therapy assistants is around $52,160, which places it as one of the most lucrative wages in terms of positions acquired with associates degrees.

Advancement Opportunities

There are opportunities for advancement in this field. Those who are physical therapy aides can combine work experience and continuing education into becoming a physical therapy assistant. Those who are already assistants can also gain more training and specialize in a variety of concentrations that can include geriatric, pediatric or cardiopulmonary physical therapy. Some assistants use their experiences to become teachers in their specialty.