What Does a PTA Do?
Typically, Physical Therapist Assistants work alongside Physical Therapists to develop plans to help patients regain normal movement. So what does a Physical Therapist Assistant do? Although there are many tasks PTA’s complete and responsibilities which they hold, the career can largely be broken down into three primary functions including helping patients recover, tracking their progress and adjusting their treatment plans accordingly. Here’s what each of those functions means:
Help patients recover
“Having a career in the medical field is an opportunity to help others,” Holly Stadel, a Physical Therapist Assistant practicing in Michigan, said. “As a PTA I am given a great responsibility to heal my clients on all levels. The individuals I treat have had traumatic experiences leaving them feeling weak, vulnerable and sometimes suffering from losses.”
Thus, the first responsibility of of a PTA is to help a patient complete therapies designed by the supervising Physical Therapist. These therapies can include stretches, strength training, physical manipulation and other exercises. Benefits of these therapies include increased flexibility, improved circulation, minimized discomfort, enhanced coordination and achieving a greater, if not full, range of motion. Stronger muscles, joints and ligaments can result from these therapies and help patients become less susceptible to injury, especially as they age.
“I knew early on I wanted to help clients who have suffered catastrophic injuries and was very fortunate to receive advanced training and work with highly skilled therapists who were committed to advancement in the field of rehabilitation,” Stadel said. “As a PTA I take my position seriously and am aware that I am there to help the client to reach their goals, educate them, motivate and empower them. I love my job and am willing to sweat and work for my client until they can do it for themselves.”
During each therapy session, PTA’s log how the patient is feeling in regards to their area(s) of pain and/or discomfort. They also record whether or not the patient has increased or decreased mobility, or if their mobility has not changed. This information must be tracked and reported to a Physical Therapist so that their effectiveness can be determined.
“You can learn more about this from your colleagues,” Stadel suggested. “Everyone can learn from each other, good or bad.”
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So, this element of the job is incredible important, as it goes hand-in-hand with patient outcomes and their ability to be treated as efficiently as possible. Additionally, this function of a PTA is why those considering the career should recognize the importance of attention to detail.
Adjusting treatment plans
Based on a patient’s recorded progress, the supervising Physical Therapist may recommend slight changes be made to their current treatment plan, or that an entirely new plan be established and put into effect. The goal of physical therapy is to help patients regain mobility as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible, so the supervising Therapist is able to recognize what changes need to be made.
PTA’s need to be able to interpret these changes and the directions given by a Physical Therapist, and to apply them to the patient’s therapies. This could mean anything from slight changes in stretching motions, to different exercises needing to be done. Then, PTAs must again record the results of any treatment adjustments, reporting them back to the Therapist for review.
“To be a successful PTA, you need to have compassion and the desire to learn, have a great work ethic and have the ability to work with a team approach,” Stadel said. “Approach your career knowing that this is an ever-changing profession and look forward to learning new treatments so you can better help your clients.”
While helping patients recover through therapies, tracking their progress and making any necessary changes to therapies based on progress are the most important roles a PTA plays in the physical therapy setting, they also help keep the space clean and ready for patient visits.
To learn more about the functions of a Physical Therapist Assistant, consider asking to shadow a local PTA professional for a day. There’s no better way to learn than to witness some assume the role first-hand!
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