Physical Therapy Assistant Skills List

Physical therapist assistant treating a senior patient

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Physical therapy assistants (sometimes called PTAs) help a variety of patients with illnesses and injuries to reduce pain and improve mobility. They work under the supervision of physical therapists.

PTAs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, sports and fitness facilities, nursing homes, schools, and more. PTAs need an associate’s degree and a state licensure or certification. However, they also require particular skills.

Many PTA skills are hard skills, such as a knowledge of human anatomy and a knowledge of how to perform certain stretches and exercises. However, the job also includes a number of soft skills that help physical therapists communicate effectively with patients and coworkers.

Here's a list of skills that employers are looking for in resumes, cover letters, job applications, and interviews. Included are detailed descriptions of the five most important physical therapy assistant skillsets, along with accompanying lists of related skills and work responsibilities.

How to Use Skills Lists

You can use these skills lists as a resource as you prepare job application materials such as your resume and your cover letter. Many employers now utilize automated applicant tracking systems to screen applications; these systems are programmed to privilege specific keywords and phrases, such as those we’ll talk about here.

Along with reviewing our lists, be sure to identify which keyword phrases are specifically mentioned in job announcements, and try to echo these in both your resume and in the body of your cover letter. It’s also a wise strategy to provide examples of times when you have used these skills in a work or training environment.

You can also use these skill words in an interview. Make sure, during the interview itself, that you mention instances of times you demonstrated each of the top five skillsets listed here.

Of course, each job will require different skills and experiences, so make sure you read the job description carefully and focus on the skills listed by the employer.

Also, review our other lists of skills listed by job and type of skill.

Top Five Physical Therapy Assistant Skills

PTAs communicate regularly with patients. They need to clearly convey instructions to patients, such as how to perform certain exercises. They also must speak with the patients and their families about what to do after treatment. To do this effectively, PTAs must have strong oral communication skills.

Because a PTA works under the supervision of a physical therapist, he or she must also be able to communicate well with the therapist. She has to listen carefully to instructions, and convey information about patients in a clear manner.

  • Active Listening
  • Assertiveness
  • Educating Family Members and Caregivers Regarding Therapeutic Routines
  • Explaining Exercises and Therapies to Patients
  • Instructing Patients about the Use of Treatment Equipment
  • Instructing Patients on Use of Adaptive Devices like Walkers, Crutches, or Canes
  • Interacting with Patients of Different Ages, Races, and Socio-Economic Backgrounds
  • Orienting, Supervising, and Training Students, Volunteers, and Support Staff
  • Providing Gait Training to Patients
  • Recommending Modifications of Treatment to Physical Therapist
  • Reporting
  • Speaking Clearly
  • Teamwork
  • Verbal Communications
  • Writing Patient Progress Notes

Along with effective communication, PTAs have to be able to empathize with patients who are struggling, often both physically and emotionally. They have to understand how the patient is feeling, and use that information to decide how to best motivate that patient and, often, the patient’s family.

  • Collaboration
  • Customer Service
  • Encouraging Patient Participation with Tasks and Therapies
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Motivating Patients
  • Overcoming Patient Resistance to Therapies
  • Positive Outlook
  • Relating to Disabled Patients
  • Remaining Calm with Distressed Patients
  • Tolerating Patient Setbacks or Lack of Progress

Detail Oriented
PTAs have to keep detailed records of patients’ illnesses, injuries, and exercise programs. They must carefully track patient progress and report patient status to the physical therapist. To keep track of all of this, PTAs must be organized and focused on the details.

  • Assessing Pain Tolerance of Patients
  • Documenting Patient Progress
  • Empathy
  • Following Infection Control Policies and Procedures
  • Measuring Range of Motion
  • Monitoring Vital Signs
  • Observation
  • Prioritizing

Often, PTAs must perform multiple tasks at once. They typically assist with many patients at one time and must be able to prioritize their duties. Therefore, PTAs must be strong multitaskers.

  • Applying Diagnostic Muscle, Nerve, Joints, and Functional Abilities Tests
  • Compiling Discharge Reports
  • Following Directions from Physical Therapists
  • Maintaining Equipment
  • Ordering Supplies
  • Organization
  • Reading and Comprehending Patient Information
  • Using Smart Data System
  • Time Management
  • Treating Multiple Patients at the Same Time
  • Working with Minimal Supervision

Physical Stamina
PTAs perform a number of tasks that require physical strength and dexterity. They must be on their feet for long periods, bend and kneel, and move patients. They also have to work with their hands to massage patients and set up equipment.

  • Administering Traction to Relieve Neck and Back Pain
  • Applying Manual Resistance to a Patient’s Limbs or Trunk During Exercises
  • Demonstrating Exercises to Patients
  • High Energy Level
  • Manual Dexterity
  • Performing Passive Stretch with Participants
  • Performing Therapeutic Massage

Job Outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 140,300 people were employed as physical therapist assistants and aides in 2016; their median annual wage in 2017 was $46,920. Career opportunities in this field are anticipated to grow 30 percent by 2026, much faster than average.