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The Job Requirements of a Physical Therapy Assistant

The main job requirements of physical therapy assistant are to aid physical therapists in providing care that improves patient mobility, relieves pain, and counteracts or lessens physical disabilities of patients.  As an example, a physical therapist could ask an assistant to help patients do their exercises or learn to use crutches.  The most common patients that you would work with are accident victims and those that are disabled with problems such as lower-back pain, arthritis, joint problems or replacements, fractures, or head injuries.  The job can also require doing such things such as electrical stimulation, mechanical traction, ultrasound, and massage.  Also, physical therapy assistants record the patient's responses to such treatment and report the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Overall, the main job is to work to ensure that the therapy sessions are productive. In addition, physical therapy assistants are usually in charge of keeping the treatment area clean and orderly and for preparing for each patient's therapy. When patients require help moving to or from somewhere, the physical therapy assistant helps them. Because this job does not always require a license, physical therapy assistants will not perform the clinical tasks of the job in states where a license is mandatory.

The Work Environment

Because of the physical exertion that is sometimes required, physical therapy assistants must have a moderate amount of strength to be able to assist patients with certain treatments. Sometimes this job can require lifting the patients supporting the patients while walking. Frequent kneeling, squatting, bending, and standing for long periods can also be frequent requirments of the job.

The hours and days worked can vary greatly.  Almost 28% of physical therapy assistants work only part-time and there are many outpatient physical therapy offices and clinics that allow for night and weekend hours.  This is done in order to better fit with worker’s schedules. 

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Education and Training

 Most physical therapy assistants get their training on the job.  Because of this, most can earn an associate degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program through the facility in which they work. This is important because many states necessitate licensing for assistants.  The American Physical Therapy Association’s Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is one of the main providers of physical therapy assistant programs. There are many such programs.  To be exact, there are 223.   The programs are usually two years and provide an associate degree upon graduation. 


Having a license is not always mandatory to work as a physical therapy assistant, but some states do require some sort of certification.  At the minimum, it is likely that the state you live in requires graduation from an accredited education program and the passage of the National Physical Therapy Exam. The exact details of these requirements can be found on the state licensing boards websites.

Opportunities for Advancement

It is not uncommon that some physical therapy assistants work their way advance to become physical therapists after procuring experience and finishing an accredited education program.

As a physical therapy assistants one can enhance the existing knowledge and skills in many ways. The American Physical Therapy Association identifies physical therapy assistants who have gained additional skills in geriatric, pediatric, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, integumentary, and cardiopulmonary physical therapy. Just as well, there are opportunities non-clinical areas such as administrative positions. Physical therapist assistants can also follow a career in teaching other soon-to-be assistants at an accredited physical therapist assistant academic program.