Study Programs for an Aspiring Physical Therapy Tech

Students interested in working alongside physical therapists can pursue either a physical therapy aide certificate or a physical therapy assistant associate's degree.

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Essential Information

Certificate programs for physical therapy technicians teach students how to lead patients through exercise routines and cover current technologies used in treating patients. Associate's degree programs usually take about two years to complete and, similar to certificate programs, include both lecture-based courses and hands-on clinical rotations. Unlike certificate programs, associate's programs also include additional general education coursework. Earning an associate's degree in this field can prepare students for licensure as physical therapy assistants, which is mandated by most states.

Certificate Programs in Physical Therapy Technology

The classes offered in physical therapy technician certificate programs provide practical training and a theoretical framework for assisting physical therapists. Coursework blends instruction in the scientific foundation of physical therapy methods with hands-on experience using therapeutic devices. Some programs also emphasize medical administration topics, such as billing, office management and patient progress tracking. The classes noted below are often required:

  • Medical billing and records
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Biomechanics
  • Therapeutic electrical stimulation
  • Injury assessment

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Associate's Degree Programs in Physical Therapy Assistant

In these programs students are given in-depth training in medical administration, physical therapy practices and the natural sciences. Most programs provide opportunities for hands-on experience working in supervised therapeutic settings. In addition to classroom lectures, students must typically complete supervised clinical rotations prior to graduation. Coursework may include the following:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Therapeutic exercise theory
  • Kinesiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Human development
  • Computer software for physical therapy exercises

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people who hold physical therapy technician certificates are qualified to work as physical therapy aides, rather than as physical therapy assistants ( The BLS predicted employment growth of about 39% for physical therapy aides between 2014 and 2024. In 2015, physical therapy aides earned a median annual salary of $25,120.

The BLS noted that 41% job growth was expected for physical therapy assistants from 2014-2024. Physical therapy assistants earned a median annual salary of $55,170 in 2015, reported the BLS.

Continuing Education Options

Most states require that physical therapy assistants meet licensure requirements. Usually, physical therapy assistants need to earn passing scores on the National Physical Therapy Exam; however, some states may implement their own unique physical therapy assistant testing.

Students interested in working as a physical therapist aide can pursue physical therapy aide certificate while aspiring physical therapist assistants typically need to complete an associate's degree program. A physical therapy assistant associate's degree takes a year longer than a physical therapy aide certificate to complete, but includes general education classes.

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