Physical Therapy Assisting

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Physical Therapy Assisting


Physical therapy assistants are skilled health care providers who work under the direction or supervision of one or more physical therapists. Their role is to facilitate care and treatment of patients with injuries, diseases, or disabilities that involve mobility or other basic physical functioning. Duties include patient instruction and monitoring, reporting progress and problems to the therapist, and providing or assisting in various forms of treatment.


Physical therapy assisting is an adjunct to the profession of physical therapy and comprises workers with at least a two-year education and clinical experience. Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are in the role of supporting the physical therapist by providing different types of patient treatment and education, and tracking patient progress. Some kinds of treatment PTAs can provide or assist with include massage, heat and cold therapy, traction, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and helping patients learn and perform various therapeutic exercises. PTAs may also work with patients who need to learn to use corrective equipment, such as braces or prostheses, wheelchairs or crutches, or other supportive devices. Other PTA responsibilities include organization and maintenance of treatment areas and equipment, and occasional performance of clerical tasks.

Patients with whom PTAs work may include children, the elderly, athletes, accident victims, and those with diseases like low back pain, arthritis, cerebral palsy, as well as people who have sustained fractures and head injuries. PTAs also assist people who need help managing pain and restoring, acquiring, or maintaining mobility and other functions. Coworkers may include physical therapists, other health care and rehabilitation professionals. Physical therapy aides also work with PTAs; aides perform a more limited range of functions, albeit similar, along with clerical, maintenance, and other

supportive duties. Aides usually receive their training on the job.


CPR —Cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Prosthesis —An artificial limb or other body part.

PTA —Physical therapy assistant or physical therapist assistant.

Work settings

Physical therapy assistants may work in hospitals, private physical therapy offices, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, sports facilities, schools, and other institutions. Some degree of bodily strength and endurance is necessary because of the physical handling of patients with limited mobility.

Education and training

A two-year associate's degree, usually from a community or junior college, is generally required. More than half of the states in the United States require licensure, registration, or an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) certification. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid certification, as well as clinical experience hours are also required, although the amount of hours varies by state.

Advanced education and training

Some PTAs may choose to complement their education by obtaining a baccalaureate degree in a related health field (APTA). The PTA curriculum does not meet the prerequisites for a physical therapy degree. PTAs, therefore, cannot directly advance to the status of physical therapist through supplementary education. There are programs, however, that help PTAs earn a master's degree in physical therapy while remaining employed as PTAs. PTAs who would like to participate in the clinical education of PTA students can also earn a Clinical Instructor Credentialing Certificate from the APTA.

Future outlook

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), employment opportunities for PTAs (and physical therapy aides) are expected to grow faster than average through 2008, with the majority of the growth in the latter part of the period. Some of the reasons for expected growth are an increasing elderly population, the aging of the baby boom generation, and increased survival potential of trauma victims. In California, for example, physical therapy assistants and aides are in the Top Fifty Fastest Growth Occupations, as noted by California's Employment Development Department.



U.S. Department of Labor. “Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides.” In Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). Washington, D.C.


American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). 1111 North Fairfax Street. Alexandria, VA 22314. (703) 684-2782. (800) 999-2782.

State of California, Employment Development Department. Labor Market Information Division. Information Services Group. (916) 262-2162.

Diane Fanucchi B.A., C.M.T.

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Physical Therapy Assisting

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