To work in the physical therapy industry, you don’t necessarily have to be a doctor of physical therapy (DPT). In fact, you can make a huge difference in patients’ lives by serving in a supporting role—especially as a therapist assistant or a therapy technician. Now, these jobs might sound like a “poh-tay-toe”, “poh-tah-toe” kind of situation. And by that, I mean: same job, different name. Right? Well, don’t let their names fool you; the roles are actually very different from one another. Here’s why:

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What is a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) generally assist in the treatment of all patients and can work in a variety of settings—from hospitals to fitness facilities. To get a bit more granular, the APTA states that “PTAs implement selected components of patient/client interventions (treatment), obtain data related to the interventions provided, and make modifications in selected interventions either to progress the patient/client as directed by the physical therapist or to ensure patient/client safety and comfort.” Based on this definition, PTs and PTAs may have some job-duty overlap.

What is a Physical Therapy Technician?

Techs help keep the clinic running like a well-oiled machine by cleaning equipment, preparing treatment areas, and assisting patients in moving from room to room. Additionally, those in this role can assist with clerical duties and paperwork. Now, just because therapy techs aren’t able to treat patients doesn’t mean their roles aren’t important. Most therapy settings rely on techs to keep processes humming along with minimal hold-ups.

What are the Education Requirements for PTAs and Techs?

In addition to differences in their job descriptions, PTAs and techs have different education requirements and role limitations. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of job prerequisites, as adapted from this resource and the APTA:

Therapist Assistant Requirements

Therapy Tech Requirements

Earn an Associate’s Degree*

Be 18 years old or older

Graduate from a CAPTE-accredited PTA program

Earn a High School Diploma or GED

Pass National Physical Therapy Exam and Become Licensed

Train on-the-job

Earn Continuing Education Units*

 

*in most states

What are the Compensation Averages for PTAs and Techs?

Salary averages vary depending on state and setting. With that in mind, PTAs earn an average annual salary of $52,160, and techs earn an average of $23,880 per year.

What are the Job Limitations for Both Roles?

Now that we’ve covered the job requirements and duties specific to each role, let’s go over the functions that neither PTAs nor techs can perform. According to the APTA, whether you’re a PTA or a tech, you may not:

  1. Interpret patient referrals.
  2. Perform an initial exam, evaluation, diagnosis, or prognosis.
  3. Make or modify a plan of care.
  4. Determine when you provide patient care.
  5. Perform a re-exam.
  6. Establish a discharge plan and complete supporting documentation.
  7. Oversee all documentation for services rendered.

Now, some state practice acts are more stringent than Medicare, while others allow PTAs a little more autonomy. To learn more about the ins and outs of PT/PTA supervision, check out this blog post.

How are PTAs and Techs Similar?

Even though the two roles are different, they do share many similarities. Techs and assistants can work in the same settings—including outpatient clinics, hospitals, gyms, or other facilities. And both roles require candidates that are:

  • compassionate,
  • detail-oriented, and
  • conscientious.

Furthermore, both roles typically require working with confidential patient records. That means candidates must be willing to protect patient privacy and adhere to all HIPAA regulations.


Even though therapy techs and therapist assistants serve separate and distinct roles, both types of professionals are valuable assets in every rehab therapy setting. Are you a therapy tech or assistant? What’s your favorite part of the job? Leave us a comment below.

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