Physical therapists are experts of body movement and help patients overcome physical challenges or injuries through rehabilitation. Physical therapy is a versatile career that allows a physical therapist (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA) to work in many settings, which gives you options of where you will potentially work after finishing your degree and passing your certifications.
Where do physical therapists and physical therapist assistants work?
Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants work in a number of locations, such as clinics, private practices, physician’s offices, nursing facilities, patient’s homes, schools, fitness centers or hospitals.
A physical therapist assistant must work with a licensed physical therapist, and that is why you’ll often find a PTA accompanying a PT.
Here are just some of the locations you can expect to work as a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant:
% of PT Professionals
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists
Hospitals: state, local, and private
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)
Home healthcare services
Offices of physicians
Most PTs and PTAs work in a private practice or physical therapist office, followed closely by hospitals of all types.
What do PTs and PTAs do?
The field of physical therapy requires you to be hands on in offering support to those recovering from physical injuries, illnesses, surgeries or other challenges, such as chronic conditions.
A physical therapist duties may range from helping someone walk again to working with patients to gain back motor skills following a stroke. Below are potential places that a PTA may work, as well as potential treatment techniques provided for each setting.
Physical therapists often start their own outpatient practice and employ physical therapist assistants to help them care for patients. The diagnoses typically seen in an outpatient setting are sports-related injuries and other general musculoskeletal pathologies. Treatment techniques typically involve muscular stretching and strengthening, massage and the use of various therapeutic modalities such as ultrasound, heat and ice.
Another common place to find physical therapist assistants is a hospital. The goal of physical therapy in a hospital or inpatient setting is to help patients regain general mobility that is lost after experiencing an injury or an illness. Treatment techniques typically involve general strengthening with a focus on mobility skills such as bed mobility, transferring from one surface to another, walking, and going up and down steps all in a safe manner.
Nursing Facilities (Subacute Facilities)
There may be a situation when a patient is recovering from an injury or illness and is ready to be discharged from the hospital, but the patient is not strong or well enough to go home. In this case, a patient would go to a subacute facility. In this setting, a PTA would continue with what was started in the hospital; mobility skills training and general strengthening, with the goal of the patient being as independent as possible with activities of daily living. Physical therapist assistants who work in this setting oftentimes specialize in geriatric physical therapy.
In situations where it’s difficult for a patient to leave their home, PTs or PTAs can perform therapy in the patient’s home. Performing therapy in the patient’s home allows the PT or PTA to focus on the specific needs of the patient within their own home.
Another place you may not think of immediately where physical therapists and physical therapist assistants dedicate their careers, is within public K-12 school systems. As part of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), physical therapists or physical therapist assistants help ensure a free and appropriate education for students with disabilities.
How to Begin a Career in Physical Therapy
Starting with a physical therapist assistant associate degree, you can complete your licensing requirements to start working as a physical therapist assistant or choose to finish your schooling as a physical therapist. You may have learned that physical therapy and physical therapist assistant programs have limited enrollment, and by seeking out a direct admission program, you are more likely to secure a spot in your desired PT or PTA program.