How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

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Physical therapy is an important healthcare profession that helps patients develop, maintain, and restore movement and function. Since physical therapists have a lot of tasks and patients, trained assistants are required to help provide treatment and observe patients. This is the job of physical therapy assistants.


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What does a physical therapy assistants do?

Physical therapy assistants help physical therapists with administering treatment that helps patient mobility, alleviates pain, and lessens or prevents physical disabilities. They help patients with exercises and ambulatory equipment such as crutches and braces. They also help with massages, ultrasounds, electrical stimulations, hot and cold packs, paraffin baths, and traction. Physical therapy assistants record patient conditions, responses to treatment, and the treatment outcome and present their reports to physical therapists. Sometimes physical therapy assistants perform clerical tasks such as ordering supplies, filling out insurance forms, filing paperwork, and answering phones. Physical therapy assistants work with a variety of patients such as those involved in accidents and with disabling conditions including cerebral palsy, lower-back pain, heart disease, head injuries, arthritis, and fractures.

What kind of training does a physical therapy assistant need?

Many states require physical therapy assistants to have at least an associate degree. In 2006, there were 233 accredited physical therapy assistant programs in the United States. The programs include academic instruction and hands-on clinical experience. Coursework often includes anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology, and psychology. Physical therapy assistants must also gain CPR and first aid certification. Some states require physical therapy assistants to be licensed. Licensing requirements typically include completing an approved physical therapy assistant training program, CPR certification, and clinical experience.

What are the prospects for a career as a physical therapy assistant?

Employment of physical therapy assistants is projected to grow much faster than average for all professions, increasing 29% from 2006 to 2016 (1). Job growth will be driven by the increase in patients with disabilities or limited function.

Job prospects are expected to be very good especially for physical therapy assistants with advanced education and extensive experience. Job openings will also result from the need to replace physical therapy assistants that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do physical therapy assistants make?

As of October 2009, the middle 50% of physical therapy assistants earn average annual salaries between $39,233 and $48,191. The top 10% earn average annual salaries of more than $52,163 (2).

A career as a physical therapy assistant is a great choice for people interested in providing physical therapy treatment to a variety of patients. Physical therapy assistants must be caring, detail oriented, well organized, and have good eye-hand coordination. They must have a moderate degree of physical strength to assist patients with treatment. Physical therapy assistants must also have excellent written and oral communication and strong interpersonal skills because they interact with a variety of patients and other physical therapy professionals.

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