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What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do About this section

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care.

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.

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.

Work Environment About this section

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants give therapy through exercise, stretching, and other interventions.

Physical therapist aides held about 50,600 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of physical therapist aides were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 60%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 22
Offices of physicians 7
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 4
Government 2

Physical therapist assistants held about 98,700 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of physical therapist assistants were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 46%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 23
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 10
Home healthcare services 9
Offices of physicians 5

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.

Work Schedules

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 or Aide About this section

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work.

Physical therapist assistants entering the occupation typically need an associate’s 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.

Education and Training

All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s 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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

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.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Physical therapist assistants and aides should enjoy helping people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy to help their patients.

Detail oriented. Physical therapist assistants and aides should be organized, keep accurate records, and follow written and verbal instructions carefully to ensure quality care.

Dexterity. Physical therapist assistants should be comfortable using their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. Aides should also be comfortable working with their hands to set up equipment and prepare treatment areas.

Interpersonal skills. Physical therapist assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients, their families, and other healthcare practitioners; therefore, they should be courteous and friendly.

Physical stamina. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they work with their patients. They must often kneel, stoop, bend, and stand for long periods.

Pay About this section

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Median annual wages, May 2019

Physical therapist assistants

$58,790

Occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants and aides

$52,910

Physical therapist assistants and aides

$48,990

Total, all occupations

$39,810

Physical therapist aides

$27,000

 

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.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for physical therapist aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $34,490
Hospitals; state, local, and private 29,570
Offices of physicians 28,430
Government 28,090
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 25,600

In May 2019, the median annual wages for physical therapist assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $66,840
Home healthcare services 63,200
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 57,520
Hospitals; state, local, and private 57,140
Offices of physicians 55,490

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.

Job Outlook About this section

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Physical therapist assistants

33%

Occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants and aides

30%

Physical therapist assistants and aides

29%

Physical therapist aides

21%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

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.

Job Prospects

About 15,100 openings for physical therapist assistants and 6,900 openings for physical therapist aides are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Job opportunities should be good in settings where the aging population is most often treated, such as skilled-nursing homes, home health, and outpatient orthopedic facilities.  Physical therapist aides with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree may have better prospects than will those without one, as some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a degree.

Employment projections data for physical therapist assistants and aides, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Physical therapist assistants and aides

31-2020 149,300 192,300 29 43,000 Get data

Physical therapist assistants

31-2021 98,700 130,900 33 32,200 Get data

Physical therapist aides

31-2022 50,600 61,300 21 10,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about physical therapist assistants, visit

American Physical Therapy Association

For a list of schools offering accredited programs, visit

Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education

For more information about state licensing requirements and about the National Physical Therapy Exam, visit

Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy

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For a career video on physical therapist assistants and aides, visit

Physical therapist assistants and aides

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