Modern physical therapy was first established in Great Britain towards the end of the 19th century. In 1921, American physical therapists formed the first professional association called the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, which later give birth to what is known today as the American Physical Therapy Association. Members include physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and students of physical therapy.

APTA defines physical therapy as: “clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function.” So what is the physical therapy assistant job description?

Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description

Physical therapy is becoming more and more popular, especially among patients treated for arthritis, lower back pain, injuries due to accidents, and heart diseases. The main purpose of a physical therapy assistant is to assist physical therapists in helping patients recovering from surgery, illnesses, and injuries to manage pain and to regain movement. In most cases, exercise is performed, where muscles and joints are strengthened through different techniques.

When patients arrive at a physical therapy clinic, they will first be evaluated by a physical therapist. The therapist will eventually develop a treatment regimen for the patient to follow. A physical therapy assistant supervises patients while they follow the treatment, making sure they correctly and successfully carry through the plan. They help provide services that improve a patient’s mobility and reduce their pain, preventing them from further injuries and limiting deterioration of the condition. Their duties and responsibilities may vary depending on their experience and the clinic they work for. However, physical therapy assistants must always work under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Physical therapist assistants help physical therapists in clinics, rehab centers, offices, outpatient centers, education centers, research centers, extended care facilities, schools, sport training facilities, industrial places, and hospitals. The job duties of a physical therapy assistant are:

  • Measure the patient’s motor function
  • Record strength and muscle performance
  • Assist physical therapists in developing treatment plans
  • Observe patients and write progress reports
  • Evaluate the capability of patients to function independently
  • Assist patients in carrying out specific exercises
  • Treat patients with varieties of techniques, like stretching and massage
  • Help patients with equipment and devices, like walkers
  • Use and care for braces or prostheses (artificial body parts)
  • Use electrical stimulation and ultrasound
  • Educate patients on how to exercise properly to strengthen muscle and improve mobility
  • Teach the patients and their family members what to do at home after treatment

How to become a Physical Therapist Assistant

In most states, physical therapist assistants are required to obtain an Associate’s Degree (2 years) from CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Education) accredited programs, which normally have two parts: academic coursework and clinical experience. In the former, courses like English, physiology, anatomy, and psychology are covered. The latter is more hands-on experience that takes place in therapy centers. Currently, there are 280 accredited associate degree programs available for physical therapist assistants.

Physical Therapy Assistant Training

Besides coursework, the clinical training given to physical therapy assistants helps them gain practical experience in their field. This training includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), hands-on experience, and first aid giving.

Physical Therapy Assistant Certification

In many states, a physical therapy assistant must be licensed before they can practice. After completing a 2-year Associate’s program, a physical therapist assistant is required to first pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) issued by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. They can then apply for a license in their desired state of employment. The license often has to be renewed with continuing education courses.

Physical Therapy Assistant Salary

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Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description Summary

  • Provide physical therapy and treatments
  • Work with physical therapists and physical therapy aides
  • 2 years education program
  • Must be licensed to practice in most states
  • 41% employment growth by 2022