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Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapist assistants and physical therapist aides help patients recovering from injuries, illnesses, and surgery regain movement and manage pain.

Physical therapist assistants and physical therapist aides help patients recovering from injuries, illnesses, and surgery regain movement and manage pain.

The road from injury to recovery can be a long one, even with medication to ease the pain. Physical therapy (PT) focuses on strengthening muscles and re-training the body post injury to speed the healing process and prevent further injury. A PT assistant works with patients following an individual plan from a physical therapist. The assistant may help with stretches, supervise weight lifting, or teach a patient how to use their new crutches.

Fast Facts

Minimum Degree Required: Associate’s

Top 3 Skills: Compassion, Patient Interaction, Movement and Dexterity

Average Starting Salary: $32,000

Job Description

A PT assistant works alongside physical therapists in either a hospital, rehabilitation center, or private physical therapy office. Their “offices” typically look more like gymnasiums, and may include fitness equipment, therapy pools, and massage tables. Every patient’s needs are specific to their past, injury, and present condition. Following the plan laid out by the physical therapist, an assistant walks the patient through their routine. Most patients attend sessions multiple times a week, so PT assistants often develop relationships with their patients, following their physical (and emotional) progress.

Some patients simply need to strengthen their knees after a sprain; others need help adjusting to life without one or more limbs. Compassion and patience are vital when working with any patient, but those adjusting to life post-injury are in need of extra support.

Education

Most states require PT assistants to have an associate’s degree in physical therapy, or to be 2+ years into their bachelor’s degree from an accredited program. Some PT assistants go on after a few years to obtain their master’s degree and become a physical therapist in their own right.

Anatomy and physiology are the base of all physical therapy, and detailed knowledge of the musculoskeletal system is required.

Certification/Licensing

Not required

Job Outlook: Outstanding

The BLS predicts a 46% increase in PT assistant positions between the years 2010 and 2020. As we continue to discover the value of physical recovery programs, more insurances are covering PT and more doctors are recommending it. The median salary for assistants in 2010 was approximately $37,710/year.

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