How much does a physical therapy assistant get paid
Frequently asked questions
What do physical therapist assistants do?
Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) provide physical therapy services while being directed and supervised by a licensed physical therapist. PTAs may assist patients of all ages who need physical rehab or have medical issues or health-related conditions that limit their ability to perform daily activities.
PTAs provide care focusing on patients’ mobility, strength, and coordination and may help patients with exercises geared toward strengthening these abilities. PTAs may train patients for activities such as walking with a mobility device including crutches, canes, or walkers. They may also fit or adjust supportive devices, such a leg braces or crutches. In addition, PTAs are also trained to conduct therapeutic exercises and provide therapeutic massage using ultrasound or electrical stimulation for treatment.
Working with physical therapists, PTAs can help measure changes in patients’ performance and assist with clerical duties, including documenting progress, completing forms, and ordering supplies.
PTAs work in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, sports facilities, schools, and more.
Read more about what physical therapist assistants do.
What is the difference between a PTA and Occupational Therapist Assistant (OTA)?
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work under the direction of a physical therapist (PT) to help people return to daily activity which may encompass movement related recreational pursuits, work, or sports. PTAs also offer patients injury prevention strategies related to fitness and movement. They help implement plans established by a PT to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability.
Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) work under the direction of an occupational therapist (OT) to help people of all ages who have a disability, condition or injury which interferes with their ability to carry out daily self-care, school or work tasks. OT/OTAs work on cognition as well as the physical aspect of care.
Average PTA salary by state
Job / CareerPer yearPer hourPhysical Therapist Assistant (PTA)$58,440$28.58Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)$63,420$30.49
All salary data courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020).
* Salaries can vary based on location, education, and experience. This average is not entry level – recent graduates will need to earn experience and work their way up to earn a higher salary.
Both OTAs and PTAs may be able to increase their earning potential by earning a bachelor’s degree in health science. Completing a bachelor’s degree can help OTAs and PTAs qualify for more jobs within their field and advance their career.
Learn more about the primary difference between OTA and PTA.
How can I become a PTA?
To become a PTA, you’ll need to earn an associate’s degree from a physical therapy assistant program. Generally, these programs take approximately 20 months to complete and focus on medical terminology, kinesiology, patient care, and anatomy/physiology. As a complement to online coursework, you’ll also participate in hands-on clinicals and lab work, which will help build your practical experience in physical therapy assisting.
Once you have graduated, it’s important to become certified. You can sit for the National Licensing Examination for Physical Therapy Assistants, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). Passing the exam and earning your PTA certification is a requirement for working as a PTA.
Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021
31-2021 Physical Therapist Assistants
Assist physical therapists in providing physical therapy treatments and procedures. May, in accordance with state laws, assist in the development of treatment plans, carry out routine functions, document the progress of treatment, and modify specific treatments in accordance with patient status and within the scope of treatment plans established by a physical therapist. Generally requires formal training.
National estimates for Physical Therapist Assistants
Industry profile for Physical Therapist Assistants
Geographic profile for Physical Therapist Assistants
National estimates for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Employment (1) Employment
RSE (3) Mean hourly
wage Mean annual
wage (2) Wage RSE (3) 93,660 1.7 % $ 29.20 $ 60,740 0.7 %
Percentile wage estimates for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Percentile 10% 25% 50%
(Median) 75% 90% Hourly Wage $ 17.92 $ 23.40 $ 29.42 $ 36.48 $ 38.54 Annual Wage (2) $ 37,280 $ 48,670 $ 61,180 $ 75,870 $ 80,170
Industry profile for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Industries with the highest published employment and wages for Physical Therapist Assistants are provided. For a list of all industries with employment in Physical Therapist Assistants, see the Create Customized Tables function.
Industries with the highest levels of employment in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Industries with the highest concentration of employment in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Top paying industries for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Geographic profile for Physical Therapist Assistants:
States and areas with the highest published employment, location quotients, and wages for Physical Therapist Assistants are provided. For a list of all areas with employment in Physical Therapist Assistants, see the Create Customized Tables function.
States with the highest employment level in Physical Therapist Assistants:
State Employment (1) Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient (9) Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2) Texas 7,690 0.63 0.95 $ 33.40 $ 69,470 Florida 6,910 0.80 1.21 $ 31.22 $ 64,940 California 6,780 0.41 0.62 $ 35.17 $ 73,150 Ohio 6,150 1.18 1.78 $ 29.54 $ 61,450 Pennsylvania 5,540 0.99 1.49 $ 26.64 $ 55,410
States with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in Physical Therapist Assistants:
State Employment (1) Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient (9) Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage (2) Arkansas 1,550 1.30 1.95 $ 27.89 $ 58,020 Kentucky 2,220 1.21 1.82 $ 25.55 $ 53,150 Ohio 6,150 1.18 1.78 $ 29.54 $ 61,450 West Virginia 750 1.14 1.72 $ 26.52 $ 55,160 Pennsylvania 5,540 0.99 1.49 $ 26.64 $ 55,410
Top paying states for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Metropolitan areas with the highest employment level in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Metropolitan areas with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Top paying metropolitan areas for Physical Therapist Assistants:
Nonmetropolitan areas with the highest employment in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Nonmetropolitan areas with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in Physical Therapist Assistants:
Top paying nonmetropolitan areas for Physical Therapist Assistants:
About May 2021 National, State, Metropolitan, and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
These estimates are calculated with data collected from employers in all industry sectors, all metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas, and all states and the District of Columbia. The top employment and wage figures are provided above. The complete list is available in the downloadable XLS files.
The percentile wage estimate is the value of a wage below which a certain percent of workers fall. The median wage is the 50th percentile wage estimate—50 percent of workers earn less than the median and 50 percent of workers earn more than the median. More about percentile wages.
(1) Estimates for detailed occupations do not sum to the totals because the totals include occupations not shown separately. Estimates do not include self-employed workers.
(2) Annual wages have been calculated by multiplying the hourly mean wage by a “year-round, full-time” hours figure of 2,080 hours; for those occupations where there is not an hourly wage published, the annual wage has been directly calculated from the reported survey data.
(3) The relative standard error (RSE) is a measure of the reliability of a survey statistic. The smaller the relative standard error, the more precise the estimate.
(9) The location quotient is the ratio of the area concentration of occupational employment to the national average concentration. A location quotient greater than one indicates the occupation has a higher share of employment than average, and a location quotient less than one indicates the occupation is less prevalent in the area than average.
Other OEWS estimates and related information:
May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
May 2021 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
May 2021 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
May 2021 National Industry-Specific Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates
May 2021 Occupation Profiles
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How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant (and Why You Should)
If you have a passion for being active and a heart for helping others, then it’s no surprise you’re considering becoming a physical therapist assistant (PTA). Not only do these healthcare pros have the rewarding opportunity to help improve the quality of life of others, but they are also desperately needed in today’s healthcare system.
If you’re at all intrigued by this in-demand career, read on to learn more about why it’s appealing, what it entails and how to become a physical therapist assistant.
Why become a physical therapist assistant?
There’s a lot to like about the role of a physical therapist assistant. According to the U.S. News & World Report job rankings, it is considered a top healthcare support job. This recognition was earned by weighing career factors like salary, unemployment rate and future growth along with job satisfaction elements such as stress level and work-life balance.
Generally speaking, physical therapist assistants tend to enjoy what they do. And that’s not hard to believe, considering their job revolves around helping patients holistically, using exercise, movement and an intricate understanding of the human body to help reduce pain and gain mobility. But beyond the helping nature of the work, there are two significant economic factors that make physical therapist assistant jobs enticing.
What is the job outlook for physical therapist assistants?
When it comes to healthcare workers, most people probably don’t think of physical therapist assistants. But the truth is that they play a critical role in the healthcare system. This is evident in the rapid growth in the field.
In fact, PTAs are among the top 10 fastest growing occupations in the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 Physical therapist assistant jobs are projected to increase 12 percent through 2030, which is three times faster than the BLS’ reported average for all occupations.1
Like many other healthcare jobs, the aging baby boomer generation is creating a spike in demand as retirements and age-related health issues grow. Physical therapists are also expected to rely more heavily on PTAs in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services.
How much do physical therapist assistants make?
It’s only natural to be curious about what the typical physical therapist assistant salary is. You’re in for some good news. PTAs have strong earning potential, especially when considering these jobs can be attained with an Associate’s degree.
The BLS reports the 2021 median annual salary for physical therapist assistants was $61,180.1 It’s important to note that the PTA salary will vary based on experience and employer. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,280, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,170.1
According to the BLS, the average physical therapist assistant salary was highest for those employed at nursing home facilities and for home healthcare services.1 Now that you’re aware of the growth and earning potential for PTAs, let’s take a closer look at the job duties and path to become one.
What does a physical therapist assistant do?
Physical therapist assistants are part of a team that works with patients who have injuries or medical conditions that limit their mobility or make it difficult to perform everyday tasks and activities, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). PTAs typically observe patients before, during and after therapy. They help them perform exercises, treat them through massage and stretching techniques and educate patients and family members about post-treatment care.
Some common activities that PTAs assist patients with include: stretching, ultrasound therapy, therapeutic massage, balance and coordination training, electrical stimulation or heat and ice treatments.
How do you become a physical therapist assistant?
Now that you know a bit more about the job and its benefits, take a look at your step-by-step guide on how to become a physical therapist assistant.
Step 1: Earn a Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s degree
All states require PTAs to have an Associate’s degree from an accredited program, according to the BLS. Earning a degree may sound daunting, but some PTA training can be completed in as few as 18 months.2 This formal education consists of courses, lab work and clinical training.
Step 2: Pass the licensing exam
All states except Colorado and Hawaii require PTAs to be licensed in addition to holding an Associate’s degree. Once applicants have graduated from a PTA program, they’re eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for physical therapist assistants. Once you pass this exam, you’ll be a licensed PTA.
It’s important to thoroughly prepare for the NPTE before taking it. Though retakes are available, you may only take the exam three times in one year or six times total. More details on the NPTE can be found at The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website. Depending on the state, physical therapist assistants may also need to take continuing education courses to maintain their license.
Step 3: Brush up on these in-demand PTA skills
After earning your Associate’s degree and passing the NPTE, you’re nearly ready to begin your career as a PTA. But before rushing into the career search process, it’s helpful to know what exactly employers are looking for so you can come prepared to put your best foot forward.
We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 30,000 physical therapist jobs posted over the past year.3 The data helped us identify the top skills employers are seeking:
- Treatment planning
- Patient care
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Home health
- Patient and family education
While a great physical therapy assistant program is designed to equip you with the necessary technical skills, a little extra proficiency in these skill areas will help your resume stand out to employers. You might also consider getting involved in extracurricular activities to polish your skills. Coaching youth sports is an excellent option for anyone looking to develop their training and motivational skills, volunteering at nursing homes would be an excellent way to show your interest in working with aging populations, and organizations like Toastmasters can help refine your ability to speak clearly and confidently.
Step 4: Sharpen your resume and interview skills and start applying
No matter the job you’re applying for, taking the time to update and polish your resume will help improve your odds of getting a call back. You’ll also want to work on your interviewing skills while on your search.
As you go into your job search, understand what your preferred practice areas are—do you want to work with athletes? The elderly? People with disabilities? While it might not be practical in all locations, narrowing your search and tailoring your resume and interview answers to your preferred physical therapy specialty area can help you prioritize and focus yourself while searching.
Start your physical therapist assistant career
Does this outline of how to become a physical therapist assistant look like the path to the satisfying career you’ve been searching for? If so, then you’re ready to start researching to find the best training for you.
Learn more about what to look for in a quality program in our article, “Physical Therapy Assistant Programs: Key Factors to Consider.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed June 2022]. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
2Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 31,842 physical therapist assistant jobs, Apr. 01, 2019 – Mar. 31, 2020).
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.
Graduation from a physical therapist assistant education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, VA 22305-3085; phone; 703-706-3245; [email protected] is necessary for eligibility to sit for the licensure examination, which is required in all states.
The Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Rasmussen University – Brooklyn Park/Maple Grove is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, Virginia 22305-3085; phone: 703-706-3245; email: [email protected]; website:http://www.capteonline.orghttp://www.capteonline.org. If needing to contact the program/institution directly, please call 763-496-6022 or email [email protected]
The Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Rasmussen University – Ocala is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, Virginia 22305-3085; phone: 703-706-3245; email: [email protected]; website: http://www.capteonline.org. If needing to contact the program/institution directly, please call 352-291-8552 or email [email protected]