Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapist Assistant: What’s the Difference?

In most healthcare facilities there is a team of providers that work together to help make you feel better. Physical Therapy is no different! At Physical Therapy Consultants we have a great TEAM of providers that will help you recover and get back to the things you love to do! Everyone from the front desk specialists, physical therapists (PTs), physical therapist assistants (PTAs), athletic trainers (ATs), and massage therapists work together to create the perfect plan for you! But what’s the difference between a PT and a PTA?!? They seem to do the same things and you receive great care from
both! This is awesome because that means you get better faster because it doesn’t matter who you see! Let’s break it down a little bit.


Physical Therapist (PTs): All Physical Therapist programs now are clinical doctorate degrees (Yes that means you can call us Dr! No that means you don’t have to! 😊 ) PTs have bachelor’s degrees where they have to complete pre-requisite classes in anatomy, physics, psychology, etc. to prepare for graduate school. Following their bachelor’s degree, graduate school is required. Programs vary in length but are usually around 3 years with hands on internships mixed in. That means total schooling for a PT is 7 years of college. Followed by a licensure exam which is one everything learned in school, prior to becoming a licensed physical therapist and treating patients.

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTAs): Physical Therapist Assistant programs are associates degrees. PTAs have to complete pre-requisite courses in anatomy, physics, psychology etc., just like PTs do. The PTA programs vary in length, but is usually about 2.5 years. Many PTAs have a bachelor’s degree and then get their PTA degree. PTAs also complete hands on internships throughout their schooling. Total schooling for a PTA is usually about 4 years with pre-requisite classes (longer if they get their bachelor’s). PTAs also have to compete a licensure exam, prior to becoming a licensed physical therapist assistant and treating patients.


Physical Therapist: PTs are the only ones that can complete initial evaluations (your first visit) and establish a plan of care for the rest of your treatment sessions. Physical therapists make goals based on their findings, to help you get back to the things you love. They also determine when goals need to be updated or changed based on progress through treatments. Physical therapists are the only ones that can perform dry needling (in a PT clinic) and manipulations. Otherwise, they treat you individually to improve ROM, strength, and decrease pain, so it’s no longer interfering with your daily life.

Physical Therapist Assistant: PTAs follow the plan of care established on the first visit. They can perform all components of a treatment session including manual therapy, exercises, and modalities such as taping, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. If a PTA thinks that a patient could benefit from a certain type of treatment, but it’s not currently being performed, they must get permission from the PT before starting it. PTAs can take measurements for progress notes to help the PT determine progress toward goals. PTAs can’t perform manipulations, but they can perform mobilizations and dry needling.

I hope this helps clear up the differences in the two professions. The best part is each member of our AWESOME TEAM, will do everything they can to get you feeling better as soon as possible! If you are interested in learning more about PT as patient or a career or are interested in a job shadow give us a call at 1-888-THERAPY.

Rebecca Varoga, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Isanti Physical Therapy

October 24th, 2019

Posted In: General

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