Physical therapist assistants provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. They help patients and clients who have movement difficulties due to injury or disease, by assisting the physical therapist with therapies designed to improve mobility, relieve pain, prevent or limit permanent physical disability and promote overall fitness and wellness.
The terms “physical therapist assistant” and “physical therapy aide or technician” are not synonymous. Physical therapist assistants complete an intensive education culminating in an associate degree. Aides and technicians are trained on the job and not eligible to provide physical therapy by many payers, including Medicare.
Physical therapist assistants work with individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest. Their responsibilities include:
- Implementing selected components of patient/client interventions (treatment)
- Obtaining data related to the interventions provided
- Making modifications to treatments as directed by the physical therapist to help the patient progress or to ensure patient/client safety and comfort
Physical therapist assistants work in a variety of settings including outpatient physical therapy clinics, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, schools and sports and fitness facilities.
Most physical therapist assistants work Monday through Friday, although work hours may vary, depending on the facility and employment status. For example, most hospitals and skilled nursing facilities provide reduced coverage on weekends and many outpatient physical therapy offices and clinics have evening and weekend hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.
This job can be physically demanding because physical therapist assistants often have to walk, stoop, kneel, crouch, lift and stand for long periods of time. In addition, physical therapist assistants may be required to move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them to turn, stand or walk.
Salary Range and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy assistants make a median (half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less) salary of $42,980.
The BLS projects that employment of physical therapist assistants will grow 40% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Entry-level physical therapist assistant education programs typically last two years and culminate in an associate degree. Physical therapy assistants must graduate from an accredited program.
As a physical therapist assistant student, you will take general education courses as well as physical therapy courses such as:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Exercise physiology
- Clinical pathology
- Behavioral sciences
You will also spend part of your time gaining clinical experience. Approximately 75% of the curriculum comprises classroom and lab study and the remaining 25% is dedicated to clinical education. Once you graduate, you will need to pass a licensure or certification exam in most states in order to work as a physical therapist assistant.
Learn More About a Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant
- Watch the You Can Be Me video on the American Physical Therapy Association website.
- Take a look at the Information for Prospective Students section of the American Physical Therapy Association website.