Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistants enjoy helping people regain their mobility and independence after an injury or illness. They work with the primary physical therapist to provide treatment that will relive pain and decrease physical disability.

Most physical therapy assistants have at least an associate degree, with advancement opportunities available for those with higher degrees. Most physical therapy assistants supplement their formal education with on-the-job training in a clinical setting. Some states require a physical therapy assistant to have an associate degree as well as pass a licensing examination.

While a high school diploma may be all that is required for some physical therapy assistant positions, preference will go to those with an associate or bachelor’s degree and only those will higher degrees will go on to administrative or management positions. Look for academic courses either in-person or online in math, anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology and chemistry. Many schools with a physical therapy focus offer some kind of internship or on-the-job training.

Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description

Physical therapy assistants carry out the plan that the physical therapist has designed, which makes them cost efficient for the facility. They provide treatment and help patients learn to use crutches or other physical aides. A physical therapy assistant may set up equipment that will be needed during the patient’s session, and take notes on the patient’s progress to report back to the main physical therapist. They may also provide treatments including:

  • Exercise programs to strengthen muscles and increase mobility.
  • Massage therapy to loosen stiff muscles and joints.
  • Paraffin treatments for joint therapy.
  • Electrical stimulation to help with paralysis issues.
  • Hot and cold therapy to treat injuries.
  • Ultrasound treatments to gauge damage and progress.
  • Traction to decrease pressure on spine or joints.

Physical therapy assistants must be strong as they may have to assist or lift patients as well as kneel, bend and stand for long periods. Jobs sometimes include evening or weekend hours as the facility accommodates the patient’s schedules. They can advance by choosing a specialty such as geriatrics, pediatrics or sports medicine or they may move to an administrative position at the center.

Physical Therapy Assistant Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary for a physical therapy assistant was $41,360 per year as of May 2006. The actual salary for a physical therapy assistant will vary with the location and type of work setting. The job outlook is better than average and is expected to grow by 29% through 2016. This growth is largely due to the increasing physical therapy needs of an ageing population.

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