Physical Therapist Assistants
On the Job
Physical therapist assistants help patients regain physical function after illness or injury.
Not that long ago, people who underwent knee or hip surgery were kept overnight or longer at the hospital. The leg or hip that was operated on was kept immobile and the patient was instructed to stay off her feet.
Nowadays, the opposite is true. Knee surgery is often done as an outpatient procedure, and both knee and hip patients are encouraged to be mobile and to exercise their newly repaired joints (within reason, of course). In most cases, exercise is performed through physical therapy, where muscles and joints are strengthened through different techniques and motions. Many times, after patients have been evaluated and given a regimen to follow, they are supervised by physical therapist assistants.Physical therapist assistants must be supervised by a physical therapist. They help provide services that improve patients' mobility and reduce their pain. The goal is to limit or prevent permanent disabilities in patients who have been ill or injured. Their patients include people with low back pain, arthritis, heart disease, or broken bones. They also treat accident victims.
Physical therapist assistants have a variety of tasks. Before working with patients, they confer with a physical therapist about the treatment plan for that patient. Under the direction of therapists, assistants provide many different types of treatment. They teach patients how to do exercises to strengthen muscles or improve mobility. They train patients how to use and care for braces or prostheses (artificial body parts). They teach patients to use support devices such as crutches. Assistants also administer traction, which pulls joints to relieve neck and back pain. They provide soothing treatments, such as massage or heat or cold packs. They also use electrical stimulation and ultrasound. Most of these treatments work to relieve pain and to improve the function of joints and muscles.
Physical therapist assistants record treatment details in patients' charts. They also observe and record the effects of treatment. To do this, they may measure a patient's range of motion in joints or body parts. They may also take a patient's vital signs. Assistants then report patients' responses to physical therapists.
Physical therapist assistants help make therapy sessions productive by keeping the treatment areas clean and organized. They also assist patients in moving to and from treatment areas. For example, they may push them in a wheelchair or give them a shoulder to lean on. Assistants sometimes help patients in dressing or undressing.
Physical therapist assistants often have clerical tasks. They may answer the phone, order supplies, or fill out forms for insurance companies. The extent to which an assistant performs clerical tasks depends on the size and type of the facility.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Instruct and assist patients with exercises to improve functioning and mobility.
- Confer with physical therapists and other staff about treatment plans for patients.
- Provide treatments such as massage or heat or cold packs.
- Provide electrical treatments, such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound.
- Record patients' responses to treatment and report them to the physical therapist.
- Evaluate patients to determine effects of treatments.
- Secure patients to therapy equipment.
- Fit patients for braces and other supportive devices, such as crutches.
- Train patients to use equipment such as braces, prostheses, or crutches.
- Prepare patients for therapy. Help them to and from treatment areas.
- Record which treatments were given and the equipment used.
- Keep treatment areas clean and organized.
- Assist patients with dressing, and putting on and removing supportive devices.
- Administer traction to relieve neck and back pain.
- Prepare treatment areas and equipment for use by physiotherapists.
- Perform chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from lungs. Assist patients in breathing exercises.
- Perform clerical tasks, such as answering the phone, ordering supplies, or filling out forms.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Assist and care for others.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Document and record information.
- Perform activities that use the whole body.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Work with the public.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Evaluate information against standards.
- Think creatively.
- Coordinate the work and activities of others.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
- Develop goals and strategies.
- Develop and build teams.
- Teach others.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a high level of social interaction. They work closely with patients and physical therapy staff.
- Are somewhat responsible for their work outcomes.
- Communicate with coworkers and patients daily by telephone or in person.
- Are responsible for the health and safety of their patients.
- Are sometimes placed in conflict situations in which patients may be angry or rude.
- Write letters and memos on a weekly basis.
- Work in a group or as part of a team.
- Always work indoors.
- Are exposed to diseases on a daily basis. May wear protective gear, such as gloves.
- Work very near coworkers and patients. They often work within inches of others.
- Often wear a uniform or lab jacket.
- Must be sure their work is exact. Errors could harm or injure patients.
- Make decisions on a daily basis that strongly impact patients. They consult physical therapists for some decisions, but make most without talking to a supervisor.
- Usually don't have to consult a supervisor before setting tasks for the day. This is because they do many of the same tasks with each patient.
- Must structure their day around patient appointments.
- Generally have a set schedule each week.
- May work part time or full time, but most work 40 hours a week.
- May work evenings and weekends, depending on the facility's hours of operation.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Stand for long periods of time.
- Walk while moving patients to and from treatment areas.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- Use muscles to lift, push, pull, or carry heavy objects.
- See details of objects that are more than a few feet away.
- Use fingers or hands to grasp, move, or assemble very small objects.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Bend, stretch, twist, or reach out.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- Be physically active and use muscles for long periods without getting tired or out of breath.
- Coordinate movement of several parts of the body, such as arms and legs, while the body is moving.
- Move arms and legs quickly.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Keep or regain the body's balance or stay upright when in an unstable position.
- Determine the distance between objects.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.