Role of a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work as part of a team to provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist. PTAs implement selected components of patient/client interventions (treatment), obtain data related to the interventions provided, and make modifications in selected interventions either to progress the patient/client as directed by the physical therapist or to ensure patient/client safety and comfort.

PTAs assist the physical therapist in the treatment of individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.

The physical therapist is responsible for the services provided by the PTA. Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

PTAs provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes. PTAs must graduate from a CAPTE-accredited PTA program and licensure or certification is required in most states in which a PTA works.

The Physical Therapy Profession

Physical therapy is a dynamic profession with an established theoretical and scientific base and widespread clinical applications in the restoration, maintenance, and promotion of optimal physical function. For more than 750,000 people every day in the United States, physical therapists:

  • Diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and enhance physical and functional abilities.
  • Restore, maintain, and promote not only optimal physical function, but optimal wellness and fitness and optimal quality of life as it relates to movement and health assisted by PTAs when appropriate.
  • Prevent the onset, symptoms, and progression of impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities that may result from diseases, disorders, conditions, or injuries.

The terms "physical therapy" and "physiotherapy," and the terms "physical therapist" and "physiotherapist," are synonymous. The terms "physical therapist assistant" and "physical therapy aide or technician" are not synonymous. PTAs complete an intensive education culminating in an associate degree. Aides and technicians are on-the-job trained and not eligible to provide physical therapy by many payers, including Medicare.

Sources: Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, 2nd Edition (2003);
A Normative Model of Physical Therapist Assistant Education: Version 2007 

  • Last Updated: 3/28/2013
  • Contact: pta@apta.org
  • Members Only = Members Only
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