Physical Therapist Assistant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Physical Therapist Assistant, or Physical Therapy Aide, is in charge of helping patients complete physical therapy exercises based on instruction and directions from an attending Physical Therapist and their treatment plans. Their duties include giving therapeutic massages, instructing patients on how to complete exercises and recording the results of a session.

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Physical Therapist Assistant duties and responsibilities

Physical Therapist Assistants work closely with patients to help them recover from injuries. A few of the most common duties and responsibilities required of Physical Therapist Assistants include:

  • Help patients stretch and exercise certain muscle groups
  • Read instructions from Physical Therapist
  • Work directly with Physical Therapist to assist patients
  • Speak with families to find best at-home techniques
  • Keep physical therapy clean and organized
  • Move patients from wheelchairs or walkers to physical therapy area
  • Complete administrative tasks, like scheduling appointments and filing paperwork
  • Teach patients techniques like balance training
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What does a Physical Therapist Assistant do?

Physical Therapist Assistants work under the guidance of certified Physical Therapists to provide supportive patient care to people recovering from illnesses and injuries. They talk to the Physical Therapist about each patient’s condition and what treatments they will assist with during their session. They are responsible for staging the treatment area with the appropriate exercise equipment and adaptive tools for each session, sanitizing the area, removing potential hazards and making sure there is enough space to complete the treatment.

They also perform administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, updating patient records and providing family members or caregivers with information and resources.

Physical Therapist Assistant skills and qualifications

PTAs need certain skills and qualifications to succeed, including:

  • Physical strength and stamina
  • Ability to lift patients and help them move
  • Ability to read and execute detailed instructions
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Excellent verbal and written communication
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Good attention to detail
  • Solid knowledge of anatomy
  • Knowledge of PT stretches and exercises

Physical Therapist Assistant salary expectations

A Physical Therapist Assistant makes an average of $22.78 per hour. Pay rate may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location. 

Physical Therapist Assistant education and training requirements

PTAs need at least an associate degree in physical therapy education from an accredited institution. These programs last two years and include a mix of classroom instruction and clinical training. Clinical training involves working under close supervision of a Physical Therapist with real patients. After earning an associate degree, PTAs are required to earn a license or certification, which involves passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for Physical Therapist Assistants. Most employers also require PTAs to have first aid/CPR certifications. Clinics that work with specific types of patients often provide on-the-job training as well. 

Physical Therapist Assistant experience requirements

Entry-level PTAs usually don’t need experience since they get training during their programs. For employers who need a Physical Therapist Assistant to work with a specific set of clients, some related experience is necessary. Senior PTAs should have at least five years of experience. 

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Frequently asked questions about Physical Therapist Assistants


What is the difference between a Physical Therapist Assistant and a Physical Therapist?

Physical Therapist Assistants serve a support role for Physical Therapists, who have professional degrees and more extensive certification requirements. Physical Therapists are responsible for examining patients, giving them a diagnosis and deciding which treatments would be most appropriate for helping that patient heal and recover. Physical Therapists also determine the timeline of different treatments and adjust the plan to include increasingly difficult exercises or stretches as the patient’s abilities grow. 

Physical Therapist Assistants follow this plan and help the Physical Therapist manage multiple patients by assisting during sessions. They might act as a liaison between the Physical Therapist and the patient to discuss their progress and answer questions about their condition.


What are the daily duties of a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Physical Therapist Assistants plan out the patient schedule each day and confirm appointments to make sure that the Physical Therapist and patient are both available. They guide new patients through intake, providing them with forms and surveys to assess their physical state before helping the Physical Therapist teach them new exercises and therapy techniques. They can help people re-learn how to walk, improve their balance, increase their flexibility and decrease pain levels when moving. Physical Therapist Assistants prepare instructional materials for patients to use as a guide after their appointment to maintain their progress until the next session.


What are the qualities of a good Physical Therapist Assistant?

Good Physical Therapist Assistants need to have the right attitude and skills to overcome challenging situations and work with all kinds of patients. They should have the patience, compassion and empathy to interact with patients experiencing serious hardships. They need to be able to stay calm and positive even when patients get frustrated or upset about their injury or ability to make progress. 

Good Physical Therapist Assistants are also very perceptive and can notice when a patient is experiencing unusual pain and discomfort or exhibiting symptoms of a possible complication. They are great at following routines and helping others form new habits through dedication and support.


What are the types of Physical Therapist Assistants?

Physical Therapist Assistants can work in specialty physical therapy practices that treat certain kinds of patients or conditions. Each specialty uses different types of equipment and treatments that the Physical Therapist Assistant will employ as part of their work. Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants, for example, work with children and apply adapted therapy exercises to accommodate their growing bodies. Other types of Physical Therapist Assistants are Geriatric Physical Therapy Aides, Orthopedic Physical Therapy Assistants, Pulmonary Physical Therapist Assistants and Neurological Physical Therapist Assistants.

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