Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Summary

physical therapist assistants and aides image
Physical therapist aides do a variety of clerical tasks, such as scheduling patients and recording insurance information.
Quick Facts: Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
2014 Median Pay $41,640 per year
$20.02 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2014 128,700
Job Outlook, 2014-24 40% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 51,400

What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

Work Environment

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work in physical therapists’ offices or in hospitals. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help care for patients.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide

Physical therapist assistants entering the profession need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Physical therapist aides usually have a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training.

Pay

The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants and aides was $41,640 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of physical therapist assistants and aides is projected to grow 40 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy services is expected to increase in response to the healthcare needs of an older population and individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for physical therapist assistants and aides.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of physical therapist assistants and aides with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about physical therapist assistants and aides by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care.

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain. Physical therapist assistants are involved in the direct care of patients. Physical therapist aides often do tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as cleaning and setting up the treatment area, moving patients, and performing clerical duties.

Duties

Physical therapist assistants typically do the following:

  • Observe patients before, during, and after therapy, noting patient status and reporting it to a physical therapist
  • Help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care
  • Treat patients using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching
  • Use devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients
  • Educate a patient and family members about what to do after treatment

Physical therapist aides typically do the following:

  • Clean treatment areas and set up therapy equipment
  • Wash linens
  • Help patients move to or from a therapy area
  • Do clerical tasks, such as answering phones and scheduling patients

Physical therapist assistants help physical therapists provide care to patients. Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists, they treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions. Physical therapist assistants record patients’ progress and report the results of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Physical therapist aides work under the direct supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. They usually are responsible for keeping the treatment area clean and organized, and preparing for each patient's therapy. They also help patients who need assistance moving to or from a treatment area. In addition, aides do a variety of clerical tasks, such as ordering supplies, scheduling treatment sessions, and filling out insurance forms. The types of tasks that physical therapist aides are allowed to perform vary by state. Contact your state licensing board for more information.

Work Environment

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants give therapy through exercise, stretching, and other interventions.

Physical therapist assistants held about 78,700 jobs in 2014. Physical therapist aides held about 50,000 jobs in 2014.

The industries that employed the most physical therapist assistants in 2014 were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 43%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 23
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 11
Home healthcare services 9
Offices of physicians 5

The industries that employed the most physical therapist aides in 2014 were as follows: 

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 55%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 21
Offices of physicians 8
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 6
Government 3

Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help and treat patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Assistants and aides can limit these risks by using proper techniques when they assist patients.

Work Schedules

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time. Some night and weekend work may be required as many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide

Physical therapist assistants and aides
Physical therapist assistants gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work.

Physical therapist assistants entering the profession need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Physical therapist aides usually have a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training.

Education and Training

All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. There were more than 300 associate’s degree programs for physical therapist assistants accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in 2015.

Programs typically last about 2 years. Classroom study includes courses in algebra, English, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Assistants also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work. They may earn certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first-aid skills.

Physical therapist aides typically have a high school diploma or the equivalent. They usually gain clinical experience through on-the-job training that can last from about a week to a month. Employers often prefer to hire applicants with computer skills.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapist assistants administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states require that applicants pass additional state-administered exams, undergo a criminal background check, and be at least 18 years old. Physical therapist assistants also may need to take continuing education courses to keep their license. Check with your state board for specific licensing requirements.

Physical therapist aides are not required to be licensed.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Physical therapist assistants and aides should enjoy helping people. They work with people who are in pain, and they must have empathy to help their patients.

Detail oriented. Like other healthcare professionals, physical therapist assistants and aides should be organized and have a keen eye for detail. They must keep accurate records and follow written and verbal instructions carefully to ensure quality care.

Dexterity. Physical therapist assistants should be comfortable using their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. Aides should also be comfortable working with their hands to set up equipment and prepare treatment areas.

Interpersonal skills. Physical therapist assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with clients, their families, and other healthcare practitioners; and therefore should be courteous and friendly.

Physical stamina. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they work with their patients. They must often kneel, stoop, bend, and stand for long periods. They should enjoy physical activity.

Pay

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Median annual wages, May 2014

Physical therapist assistants

$54,410

Physical therapist assistants and aides

$41,640

Total, all occupations

$35,540

Healthcare support occupations

$26,440

Physical therapist aides

$24,650

 

The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $54,410 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,840, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $75,530.

The median annual wage for physical therapist aides was $24,650 in May 2014. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,370, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $36,830.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for physical therapist assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $62,280
Home healthcare services 59,890
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 53,130
Hospitals; state, local, and private 51,870
Offices of physicians 51,790

In May 2014, the median annual wages for physical therapist aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $27,860
Hospitals; state, local, and private 27,060
Offices of physicians 26,230
Government 25,080
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 23,390

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time. Some night and weekend work may be required as many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.

Job Outlook

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Physical therapist assistants

41%

Physical therapist assistants and aides

40%

Physical therapist aides

39%

Healthcare support occupations

23%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of physical therapist assistants is projected to grow 41 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of physical therapist aides is projected to grow 39 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for physical therapy services is expected to increase in response to the health needs of an aging population, particularly the large baby-boom generation. This group is staying more active later in life than previous generations. However, many baby boomers also are entering the prime age for heart attacks and strokes, increasing the demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation. Older people also are particularly vulnerable to a number of chronic and debilitating conditions that require therapeutic services. These patients often need additional help in their treatment, making the roles of physical therapist assistants and aides vital.

In addition, a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. More physical therapist assistants and aides will be needed to manage the effects of such conditions and help patients maintain their mobility.

Medical and technological developments should permit an increased percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating added demand for therapy and rehabilitative services. In addition, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform.

Physical therapists are expected to increasingly use physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. Once the physical therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a plan of care, the assistant can provide many parts of the treatment, as directed by the therapist.

Job Prospects

Opportunities for physical therapist assistants are expected to be very good. Physical therapist assistants will be needed to help physical therapists care for and manage more patients. However, physical therapist aides may face strong competition from the large pool of qualified people since requirements for entry are low.

Job opportunities should be particularly good in settings where the elderly are most often treated, such as skilled-nursing homes, home health, and outpatient orthopedic facilities. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas, as many physical therapists cluster in highly populated urban and suburban areas.

Employment projections data for physical therapist assistants and aides, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Physical therapist assistants and aides

31-2020 128,700 180,200 40 51,400 [XLSX]

Physical therapist assistants

31-2021 78,700 110,700 41 31,900 [XLSX]

Physical therapist aides

31-2022 50,000 69,500 39 19,500 [XLSX]

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of physical therapist assistants and aides.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2014 MEDIAN PAY
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary nondegree award $29,960
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

See How to Become One $25,090
Occupational therapy assistants and aides

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

See How to Become One $52,300
Pharmacy technicians

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,810
Physical therapists

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Doctoral or professional degree $82,390
Psychiatric technicians and aides

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care and monitor their patients’ conditions. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.

See How to Become One $28,470
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Postsecondary nondegree award $35,390
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm (visited February 12, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015