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A physical therapist assistant works in conjunction with a physical therapist to treat patients who have debilitating ailments. These ailments vary widely and include issues such as cerebral palsy, sports injuries, nerve or spinal cord damage, arthritis, or congenital defects. She may work patients of any age, from a child to an older adult, to help reduce pain and improve mobility. This is typically done through a combination of exercises, equipment, and even some non-traditional therapy techniques, such as ultrasound or infrared light therapy.
In general, a physical therapist assistant will help a patient maneuver her body, lessen her pain, and, ideally, overcome her physical disability. The work of the assistant is done through a wide range of techniques. For example, under the guidance of the physical therapist, the assistant may teach the patient exercises geared toward increasing the patient’s mobility. The exercises may be related to exercises done in yoga or Pilates, but they may also be exercises geared to re-train an injured person on how to do basic functions, such as walk.
In most cases, a physical therapist assistant will teach a patient how to use the equipment at the therapist’s office. In addition, she may supervise the patient to make sure she is using the equipment properly. In some cases, she may need to help the patient adjust her body or even catch the patient, if she were to lose her balance or stumble. This may require significant strength, depending on the size of the patient.
The goals of each patient may vary largely, and it is up to the physical therapist and the physical therapist assistant to help the patient discover her goals and achieve them. In some cases, the patient may want to improve mobility and lessen the pain associated with an injury. In other cases, the patient with a permanent injury may want to learn how to care for herself without relying on the assistance of others.
Beyond exercises and physical therapy equipment, the physical therapist assistant, under the direction of a licensed physical therapist, may provide the patient other forms of therapy. For example, she may perform hydrotherapy, or therapy in water. She may also use ultrasound techniques to heal ailments or engage in massage therapy. Some therapists use electrical stimulation and infrared light therapy to treat patients as well.
Occasionally, a physical therapist may ask the physical therapist assistant to do some administrative work. In those cases, she may be asked to complete forms, enter data into a computer system, or purchase office supplies. She may also be asked to document the improvements of the patient’s physical therapy progress so treatment can be most effective for the patient.