What Does a Physical Therapy Aide Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Image by Jo Zhou © The Balance 2019

Physical therapy aides are members of physical therapy support teams. Working under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants, P.T. aides perform nonmedical tasks, such as setting up and cleaning treatment rooms and transporting patients to different areas of a health care facility.

Physical therapy aides should not be confused with physical therapist assistants. The two occupations differ substantially in terms of educational requirements and job duties. Physical therapist assistants may medically treat patients under a physical therapist's direction, but P.T. aides may not provide direct patient care.

Physical Therapy Aide Duties & Responsibilities

Tasks that need to be performed in this profession typically include:

  • Assist with patient intake
  • Preparation of equipment
  • Preparing hot and cold packs
  • Transporting patients
  • Observing patients
  • Documenting patients' responses and progress
  • Liaise with physicians' offices and hospital personnel

The specific duties of P.T. aides might vary from setting to setting, but they typically are responsible for setting up equipment and maintaining a clean and functional area for treatments and exercises. P.T. aides also assist patients who need help moving from one area to another. They also handle clerical duties such as patient intake, coordinating with referring doctors' offices and documenting patients' responses during exercises.

Physical Therapy Aide Salary

Working as a physical therapy aide sometimes is a stepping stone to other careers in physical therapy specifically or to health care in general.

  • Median Annual Salary: $25,730
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $38,490
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $19,620

Education, Training, & Certification

A high school diploma typically is all that is needed to become a physical therapy aide. It's not uncommon for people to work as a P.T. aide while studying to be a physical therapy assistant, which requires an associate's degree and certification. P.T. aides also should possess strong computer skills to perform clerical tasks.

Physical Therapy Aide Skills & Competencies

Physical therapy aides must possess certain skills and the following soft skills, to succeed in this field:

  • Active Listening: An ability to hear and carry out precise instructions from a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. Listening to the needs of patients also is important.
  • Interpersonal Skills: An ability to read other people's cues and react accordingly.
  • A strong desire to help others.
  • Attention to Detail: Patients have precise exercises that are part of their treatment, and equipment must be prepared properly to handle these. It's also important to keep treatment rooms neat and orderly. 
  • Critical Thinking: An ability to weigh different options and take decisive action.
  • Stamina: Moving and preparing equipment and helping to move patients can be physically demanding some days.
  • Compassion: Patients often are recovering from injuries or dealing with other serious health issues. A genuine concern for their recovery or well-being is vital to being a good P.T. aide.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for physical therapy aides to be 29 percent, which is more than four times the 7 percent growth projected for all occupations. The growth is attributed to an aging population with increased health care needs and a rise in conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

Work Environment

Physical therapy aides spend a lot of time on their feet working with patients and setting up equipment related to physical therapy. In some circumstances, aides may need to help lift and move patients. P.T. aides might work in physical therapy clinics handling patients referred by doctors. They might also work in hospitals or nursing care facilities, working with residents.

Work Schedule

Hours correlate to standard business hours for the most part. However, it's also common for clinics to have flexible hours to accommodate patients who might only be available on weekends or in the evening.

How to Get the Job

INTEREST IN HEALTH CARE

This often is a first job in a long career in health care.

INTEREST IN PEOPLE

Though not providing direct care, P.T. aides still spend their days working with patients.

COMPUTER SKILLS

Candidates who show proficiency with computers will have better chances of getting hired.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Other positions in health care, listed with median annual salaries, that are similar to that of a physical therapy aide include: