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Physical therapist assistants typically earn an associate degree from an accredited program. As of 2004, there were 238 such physical therapy assistant programs across the United States, which required two years, or four semesters, of a combination of classroom and clinical learning. Some programs required prospective physical therapist assistants to complete anatomy and physiology courses, as well as CPR and basic lifesaving skills certification prior to entering into their clinical experience.

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Working under the direction of physical therapists, assistants possess a great deal of responsibility in providing treatment and rehabilitative services to patients who have experienced injury or disabling disease. Physical therapist assistants provide patients with exercises, massages, electrical stimulation, paraffin baths, hot and cold packs, traction and ultrasound, among other assigned duties. These individuals are also responsible for the monitoring and documentation of patient treatment and response.

Our patient treatment proceedure is as follows:

  • The therapist will discuss with patient the following:

    • Patient's medical history.

    • Patient's current problems/complaints.

    • Pain intensity, what aggravates and eases the problem.

    • How this is impacting Patient's daily activities or functional limitations.

    • Patient's goals with physical therapy.

    • Medications, tests, and procedures related to Patient's health.

  • The therapist will then perform the objective evaluation which may include some of the following:

    • Palpation - touching around the area of the pain/problem. This is done to check for the presence of tenderness, swelling, soft tissue integrity, tissue temperature, inflammation, etc.

    • Range of Motion (ROM) - the therapist will move the joint(s) to check for the quality of movement and any restrictions.

    • Muscle Testing - the therapist may check for strength and the quality of the muscle contraction. Pain and weakness may be noted. Often the muscle strength is graded. This is also part of a neurological screening.

    • Neurological Screening - the therapist may check to see how the nerves are communicating with the muscles, sensing touch, pain, vibration, or temperature. Reflexes may be assessed as well.

    • Special Tests - the therapist may perform special tests to confirm/rule out the presence of additional problems.

    • Posture Assessment - the positions of joints relative to ideal and each other may be assessed.

The therapist will then formulate a list of problems patient is having, and how to treat those problems. A plan is subsequently developed with the patient's input. This includes how many times patient should see the therapist per week, how many weeks patient will need therapy, home programs, patient education, short-term/long-term goals, and what is expected after discharge from therapy. This plan is created with input from patient, therapist, and doctor.