Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do

Physical therapist assistants and aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists.

They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain. Physical therapist assistants are involved in the direct care of patients. Physical therapist aides often do tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as cleaning and setting up the treatment area, moving patients, and performing 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
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 assistants help physical therapists provide care to patients. Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists, they treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions. Physical therapist assistants record patients’ progress and report the results of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Work Environment

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work in physical therapists’ offices or in hospitals. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help care for patients.
Physical therapist aides held about 49,800 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of physical therapist aides were as follows:
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists56%
Hospitals; state, local, and private25
Offices of physicians6
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)4
Government1
Physical therapist assistants held about 98,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of physical therapist assistants were as follows:
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists45%
Hospitals; state, local, and private23
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)10
Home healthcare services8
Offices of physicians5
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 assist patients.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide

Physical therapist assistants entering the profession need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Physical therapist aides usually have a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training.

Education and Training

All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. In 2017, nearly 350 associate’s degree programs for physical therapist assistants were accredited by theCommission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
Programs typically last about 2 years. Classroom study includes courses in algebra, English, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Assistants also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work. They may earn certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), and other first-aid skills.
Physical therapist aides typically have a high school diploma or the equivalent. They usually gain clinical experience through on-the-job training that can last from about a week to a month. Employers often prefer to hire applicants with computer skills.

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 PTAs, 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.
Physical therapist aides are not required to be licensed by state law.

Pay

The median annual wage for physical therapist aides was $26,240 in May 2018.
The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $58,040 in May 2018.
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 $20,040, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,230.
The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $58,040 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,810.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for physical therapist aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Government$32,160
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)31,040
Hospitals; state, local, and private28,960
Offices of physicians27,260
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists24,830
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)$66,440
Home healthcare services62,340
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists56,760
Hospitals; state, local, and private56,180
Offices of physicians54,360
Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time. Some may work nights and weekends because many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of physical therapist assistants and aides is projected to grow 26 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy is expected to increase in response to the healthcare needs of an older population and individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.
Employment of physical therapist assistants is projected to grow 27 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of physical therapist aides is projected to grow 23 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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, a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. More physical therapist assistants and aides will be needed to manage the effects of such conditions and help patients maintain their mobility. Moreover, medical and technological developments should permit an increased percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating added demand for therapy and rehabilitative services.
Physical therapists are expected to increasingly use physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. Once the physical therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a plan of care, the assistant can provide many parts of the treatment, as directed by the therapist.