Physical Therapy Technician Career Guide

Overview

Physical therapy technicians assist physical therapists in helping patients who are suffering from a disability. The goal of physical therapy can vary from patient-to-patient. In some cases, the goal is to help patients regain all or most of their mobility and strength, while in others it might be to help teach patients to cope with a permanent disability by learning new methods of performing basic tasks.

Because a full-fledged physical therapist must earn a graduate degree, many people who are interested in the field start off their career as a physical therapy technician; this allows them to determine whether they like the field before they commit themselves to going to college for six years.

Some techs choose to specialize in a particular field of physical therapy, though this limits the range of jobs they can apply for. Within the field of physical therapy, there are several areas of specialization:

  1. Cardiovascular and pulmonary. In this specialization, a tech learns to assist patients who have suffered from a heart or lung problem. In many cases, these patients are recovering from surgery, so the primary goal is to increase the patient’s endurance and strength.
  2. Geriatric. When working with elderly people, a tech can face a wide variety of health issues in patients, including depression, as patients sometimes face an uphill battle in trying to regain part of their former mobility. Some of the most common disabilities for elderly physical therapy patients include hip or joint replacement, arthritis and osteoporosis.
  3. Neurological. Here, techs treat victims of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
  4. Integumentary. This specialty involves the treatment and management of burns, wounds and other skin conditions by means of dressings, topical agents, exercise and other techniques.
  5. Clinical electrophysiology. Here, physical therapy techs use electrotherapy and physical agents to manage various conditions.
  6. Women’s health. These specialists help manage women’s conditions related to childbirth and post-partum.
  7. Pediatric. Here, techs deal with a wide variety of childhood conditions, including developmental, congenital, neuromuscular and other types of health problems before they become chronic conditions.
  8. Orthopedic. Orthopedic specialists help manage injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system, often after orthopedic surgery in an out-patient clinical setting. Typical patients might be suffering from broken bones, amputation, arthritis or spinal conditions.
  9. Sports. This involves the management of sports’ injuries and conditions to any type of athletes at any level, including recreational. This also includes giving educational advice for the prevention of injuries and chronic conditions like arthritis and tendonitis.

Other Job Duties

The particular duties a physical therapy tech might perform depend largely upon the job setting and the type of specialization of the physical therapist that the tech is working for. In general, a tech does routine jobs that don’t necessitate the skill level of a full-fledged physical therapist. The tech also aids the therapist during parts of the job that require two people.

Much of a tech’s responsibility involves lifting, supporting or encouraging patients while they try to perform exercises or other tasks, and making sure the patients don’t get hurt in the process. Therapeutic procedures that might involve a tech include hydrotherapy, mat exercises, paraffin baths, weight training and gait training.

Other jobs might include teaching patients how to properly use various equipment like exercise machines, walkers, wheelchairs and crutches.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site, the job rate for physical therapy assistants is expected to rise 45% from 2010 to 2020, which is a much faster rate than the average rate for all professions.

Because of the high salaries that full-fledged physical therapists command, many hospitals and other employers are starting to hire more physical therapy techs to perform some of the routine duties their physical therapists used to do, saving money on wages. Another factor in the increased demand for techs is the fact that the large generation of “baby boomers” is reaching retirement age, and elderly people have a greater-than-average need for physical therapy technicians.

Salary Prospects

The Bureau of Labor Statistics website states that the median pay in the US for physical therapy assistants in 2010 was $18.13 per hour or $37,710 per year. Because of the expected great rise in demand for these assistants, the pay rates will probably rise in the coming years along with it.

Educational Requirements

Most states require physical therapy techs to hold an associate’s degree from one of the approximately 280 accredited physical therapy programs in the nation. Many techs must also perform at least a few weeks of on-the-job training.

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