Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Physical Therapy Assistant, or Physical Therapy Aide, supports Physical Therapists in helping patients who are recovering from injuries manage pain and regain their mobility. Their main duties include preparing therapy equipment for appointments, massaging and stretching patients’ muscles and sanitizing therapy areas.


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Physical Therapy Assistant duties and responsibilities 

Physical Therapy Assistants work closely with Physical Therapists and other PTAs to provide rehabilitative care to patients. In most physical therapy clinics the duties and responsibilities of a Physical Therapy Assistant may include the following:

  • Counsel patients and their families on what to do following treatment.
  • Observe the patients they are working with before, during and after therapy and report notes to the Physical Therapist.
  • Assign specific exercises for the patient and help the patients do these exercises.
  • Use devices, such as walkers, and other equipment to help patients regain movement and reduce pain.
  • Use a variety of techniques, including stretching exercises and massage, to treat patients.
  • Assist patients when moving to and from the therapy area.


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What does a Physical Therapy Assistant do?

Physical Therapy Assistants are healthcare professionals who directly assist Physical Therapists in recovery treatments. They observe patients before, during and after undergoing therapy sessions and take consistent notes of their progress and health status for the Physical Therapist to review.

When a Physical Therapist examines, diagnoses and builds a treatment plan for a patient, the Physical Therapy Assistant helps patients perform the exercises and mobility techniques as instructed by the Physical Therapist. They also complete clerical duties like scheduling appointments, answering phone calls and emails and sanitizing the therapy rooms after sessions.


Physical Therapy Assistant skills and qualifications

Physical Therapy Assistants use a variety of skills to provide the most comprehensive care to their patients. The specific skill set required for a Physical Therapy Assistant can vary from employer to employer but typically include the following: 

  • Compassion and empathy  
  • Attention to detail
  • Organizational skills
  • Manual dexterity 
  • Interpersonal skills 
  • Physical stamina


Physical Therapy Assistant salary expectations   

A Physical Therapy Assistant makes an average of $53,143 per year. Pay rate may depend on the applicant’s level of experience, education and geographic location. 


Physical Therapy Assistant education and training requirements 

Each state requires a Physical Therapy Assistant to receive an associate degree from an accredited Physical Therapy Assistant program. Programs usually take around two years to complete and include classroom study in psychology, physiology, anatomy, English and algebra. PTA students also receive practical experience while completing supervised clinical work. During this time they will likely receive certifications in basic life support (BLS), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other skills in first aid. 


Physical Therapy Assistant experience requirements 

Each state requires Physical Therapy Assistants to be certified or licensed. This generally includes graduating from an accredited Physical Therapy Assistant program and successfully completing the National Physical Therapy Exam for Physical Therapy Assistants. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy administers this exam. 

Some states also require that Physical Therapy Assistants be at least 18 years old, complete a criminal background check and pass an exam on state laws regulating the practice of PTAs. Physical Therapy Assistants typically need to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licensure. 


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Frequently asked questions about Physical Therapy Assistants


Who does a Physical Therapy Assistant report to?

Physical Therapy Assistants typically report directly to the Physical Therapist for their daily assignments or tasks. They’re responsible for regularly reporting to the Physical Therapist with reports on the patients’ progress. They’ll also meet with the Physical Therapy Assistant if they have questions about a patient, diagnosis or treatment plans. 

Physical Therapy Assistants may work for one Physical Therapist if they’re a part of a private practice, or they may report to several Physical Therapists each day if they work in a larger health clinic. 


What settings do Physical Therapy Assistants typically work in?

There are a wide variety of different settings Physical Therapy Assistants may work in, where they’ll perform similar tasks of helping patients complete treatment plans assigned by Physical Therapists. They may work in health clinics or private practices, regularly seeing patients and helping gradually improve their physical health. Others will work in hospitals, which are more fast-paced and require Physical Therapy Assistants to help improve more severe illnesses or disabilities in patients. 


Do Physical Therapy Assistants have different responsibilities in different industries?

There are many different industries a Physical Therapy Assistant can work in. Some of them may work in assisted living facilities, where they’ll specialize in caring for older patients and finding ways to improve their mobility and flexibility as they age. Others may work in the sports industry, clinics where they’ll tend to Athletes’ injuries to help them get back into strong physical shape to participates in games again. 

There are also some Physical Therapy Assistants who operate in home healthcare services, where they’ll visit a patient’s house regularly with a Physical Therapist and will help the patient conduct prescribed exercises that improve their physical health. 


What makes a good Physical Therapy Assistant?

A great Physical Therapy Assistant should have strong communication and interpersonal skills to listen to the needs of patients and to effectively explain treatment plans to them. They spend a large portion of their day on their feet helping patients move around, so they should have impressive physical stamina and endurance as well. 

It’s also important for them to be detail-oriented, as they must pay close attention to the progress of patients to see if there are any noticeable health changes that need to be addressed. Effective computer skills are great for the ideal Physical Therapy Assistant candidate to have, as they’ll record a patient’s progress in the specific software system that the medical facility uses.

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