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Physical Therapy Assistant


If you injure your neck or back during a physical activity, who can you turn to for therapy and rehabilitation treatment? A physical therapy assistant, who works under the direct supervision of a physiotherapist, will help rescue your body and through a rehabilitation program, help restore your injured body part. Physical therapy assistants aid in the implementation of treatment programs designed to improve or maintain clients' abilities to function independently.

Physical therapy assistants teach and motivate patients to learn or improve necessary activities such as walking, climbing and general mobility. Assistants watch patients during treatment, and record and report their reactions and progress to therapists. They fit patients for and teach them to use corrective equipment, which may be braces or artificial arms and legs or supportive devices such as wheelchairs.

Physical therapy assistants aid people who have been injured or ill return to a healthy lifestyle. They also help those with permanent disabilities try to achieve the highest possible level of physical function. Their patients include accident victims, (for example, someone who needs to learn how to walk again), people with disabling conditions such as arthritis, lower back pain, body fractures, heart disease, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

Physical therapy assistants' duties vary from one position to another. For example, they may work in out-patient clinics with clients who have orthopedic problems, in extended care settings with geriatric clients, or in hospital settings with patients who have a variety of disorders. Whatever the setting, they work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists to help people heal from their injury or function well with their disabilities. Physical therapy assistants perform all of the same hands-on work that physical therapists train them to do. The main difference is that assistants cannot evaluate a patient or prescribe an exercise routine. Instead, they act on the physical therapist's instructions for each individual client and work directly with the patient in a rehabilitative fashion, supervising the progress and writing notes about each treatment session.

Physical therapy assistants employ numerous methods, under supervision to treat their patients and get them back to a state when they were able to move freely and properly. These rehabilitation techniques include stretching, therapeutic exercises, massage, hydrotherapy, and manipulations, such as joint mobilization. Physical therapy assistants teach patients specific stretches and exercises to perform everyday at home; thereby allowing the patients to take a more active role in their recovery and therapy process. They also perform ultrasounds, use microwave machines, infrared and ultraviolet lamps, and laser equipment.

Physical therapy is the long-term type of rehabilitation, so assistants must help therapists encourage their patients to be patient, practice the stretches, attend treatments religiously. A bone does not heal overnight. Physical therapy assistants are also health educators, and they teach their patients about their body so that they can try and prevent future injuries or pain.
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Southern California Health Institute
Since 1996, Southern California Health Institute has been dedicated and committed to helping students achieve their dreams by providing an exceptional education that enables them to become skilled and successful manual therapists.
Programs Offered:
  • Physical Therapy Aide/Sports Rehab Program



  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Physical therapy assistants must be in good shape, good health and maintain high physical stamina. They must be excellent communicators and enjoy helping people. Their interpersonal skills will include patience and compassion, which is required to work with sick and disabled people. They generally have good coordination and manual dexterity, and enjoy solving analytical health-related problems. Finally, they must be able to motivate people and teach their patients about preventative care.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Accompany patients to treatment rooms, perform lifts and transfers, and help them correctly position themselves
  • Prepare and apply hot or cold packs and wax treatments
  • Assist with a patient's exercise activities, such as stretching and posture re-education
  • Assist with implementing electrotherapy treatments like ultrasound and electrical muscle stimulation
  • Fit braces or artificial limbs
  • Instruct patients how to use crutches, canes, walkers and wheelchairs
  • Monitor patients during treatments, individual activities and exercise classes, and report patient performance
  • Perform postural drainage and vibrations for treatment of respiratory conditions, and teach deep breathing exercises
  • Prepare treatment areas and electrotherapy equipment for use by physical therapists
  • Clean physical therapy equipment and treatment areas, such as changing and laundering linen
  • Perform clerical tasks such as documenting activities, keeping track of statistics, maintaining an inventory of equipment, ordering supplies and equipment, answering telephones and scheduling appointments
  • Physical therapy assistants work standard, 40- to 50hour workweeks, but may be required to work some evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules. The work is physically demanding so physical therapy assistants must be in good shape. They work in office and rehabilitation centers, always indoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Physical therapy assistants work in physical therapy clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, extended care facilities, schools, nursing homes, sports injury and acupuncture clinics, rehabilitation divisions of psychiatric treatment facilities, home care programs, government health departments and aboriginal health clinics. Some physical therapy assistants also work for professional and national sports teams.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Since this field is fairly specialized, advancement as a physical therapy assistant may exist in moving to higher pay and seniority within a clinic or hospital. For some, supervisory or management opportunities may become available. Work experience in this occupation may be transferable to other therapy-related occupations, such as art therapy or athletic therapy. Physical therapy assistants may also become physical therapists, with the proper training and education.

  Educational Paths  
In the past, physical therapy assistants were often trained on the job. Nowadays, most physical therapy assistants are graduates of postsecondary therapist assistant programs, offered at various community colleges. Some assistants also have a related background in practical nursing or exercise therapy.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

Featured Schools

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Southern California Health Institute
Since 1996, Southern California Health Institute has been dedicated and committed to helping students achieve their dreams by providing an exceptional education that enables them to become skilled and successful manual therapists.
Programs Offered:
  • Physical Therapy Aide/Sports Rehab Program

Stratford Career Institute
Earn Your Diploma from Home!
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Grand Canyon University
Does the Human Mind Fascinate You? Study Psychology at Grand Canyon University - Bachelor's and Master's Degrees Available!
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Ashworth College
Earn your degree or diploma on your schedule and succeed at Ashworth College.
Programs Offered:
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Fremont College
Fremont College traces its roots to Platt College’s founding in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1879, and the Southern California branch campus was established in 1986.
Programs Offered:
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California University of Pennsylvania

Study online with California University of Pennsylvania.

Programs Offered:
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University of Cincinnati Online
Work toward your degree online with University of Cincinnati Online.
Programs Offered:
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National Holistic Institute
At National Holistic Institute, our history and network of relationships in the field continue to help our graduates succeed. With campuses across California, we offer a comprehensive massage therapy training program that prepares our graduates for a successful career in massage therapy. Whether you are looking to start your career or take it to the next level, NHI has a program for you.
Programs Offered:
  • Massage Therapy/Therapist

Blake Austin College Beauty Academy
Start your career with training from Blake Austin College - Beauty Academy.
Programs Offered:
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Brightwood College

About Brightwood College

Brightwood College offers accelerated programs that combine flexible schedules and professional instruction to create a rewarding learning experience for individuals focused on gaining the skills for specific careers. Brightwood College is owned and operated by Education Corporation of America.

Programs Offered:
  • Massage Therapy

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