How Much Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Make?
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Injuries, birth defects, congenital diseases, and surgeries can all make mobility challenging. To help improve or restore movement and strength, many clients seek physical therapy services. While primary assessments and treatment plans are completed by certified and licensed physical therapists, physical therapy assistants often provide ongoing care and treatments.
Physical therapy assistants are responsible for reading charts, understanding treatment plans, providing physical therapy treatments, tracking client progress, maintaining careful records, and updating the physical therapist on client status. They may also apply heat or cold therapies, use electrical stimulation to specific muscles, and provide education to clients’ families or caregivers on doing at-home exercises. Physical therapy assistants primarily work in clinics, although some may work in hospitals or long-term care facilities.
Becoming a physical therapy assistant takes far less time than becoming a physical therapist. Professionals can start their career as an assistant after completing a two-year associate’s degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-accredited program. Upon completion of the degree, graduates can sit for the National Physical Therapy Assistants Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).
The demand for physical therapy assistants is currently very high, with an estimated 32 percent increase in jobs in this field between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), for a total of 44,900 new positions. This increase is due to a retiring workforce, as well as the aging Baby Boomer population.
Wages for physical therapy assistants vary based on experience, place of employment, and even the state where they work. Keep reading to learn about these variations and what physical therapy assistants can expect to earn.
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary Overall
On average, physical therapy assistants earn just over the average salary in the United States. According to the BLS (May 2021), the average salary for all jobs is $58,260 per year, while the average pay for physical therapy assistants is $60,740 per year. The BLS (May 2021) reports that the percentiles for wages were:
- 10th percentile – $37,280 or $17.92 per hour
- 25th percentile – $48,670 or $23.40 per hour
- 50th percentile (median) – $61,780 or $29.42 per hour
- 75th percentile – $75,870 or $36.48 per hour
- 90th percentile – $80,170 or $38.54 per hour
Different sources report different salary ranges, as the data is aggregated differently. It can be beneficial for aspiring physical therapy assistants to look at different salary ranges to get an idea of how widely wages can vary. For example, according to PayScale (June 2022), physical therapy assistants earn $26.85 per hour on average compared to the $28.58 reported by BLS. PayScale’s percentages were:
- 10th percentile- approximately $39,000 per year
- 50th percentile (median) – approximately $50,000 per year
- 90th percentile – approximately $70,000 per year
Payscale does note that physical therapy assistants can expect to earn up to 15 percent more once they have many years of work experience.
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary By Region
One of the primary impacts on wages for physical therapy assistants is where they work. Wages can vary widely by state and even by metropolitan area. Other factors that can influence average wages include work experience, level of certification or education, and the cost of living.
Some states pay significantly higher than others. Here are the top-paying states for physical therapy assistants along with the mean wages, according to the BLS (May 2021):
- California – $73,150
- Rhode Island – $70,690
- New Jersey – $70,450
- Texas – $69,470
- Connecticut – $68,390
One thing that can affect wages for physical therapy assistants is the demand for the profession. For the most part, places with high demand will have higher wages, whereas places that don’t have very high demand may have lower wages. Below are the states with the highest number of physical therapy assistants employed and their mean salaries (BLS May 2021):
- Texas – 7,690 employed; $69,470 annual average salary
- Florida – 6,910; $64,940
- California – 6,780; $73,150
- Ohio – 6,150; $61,450
- Pennsylvania – 5,540; $55,410
Within each state, there can also be a wide variation in pay based on the metropolitan area. Generally speaking, physical therapy assistants who work in urban areas earn more than those employed in rural areas. Here were the top-paying metropolitan areas along with the mean wages (BLS May 2021):
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA – $41.33 per hour, $85,960 per year
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA – $37.86 per hour, $78,740 per year
- Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA – $36.73 per hour, $76,390 per year
- Midland, TX – $36.32 per hour, $75,550 per year
- Salinas, CA – $36.13 per hour, $75,150 per year
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA – $36.12 per hour, $75,120 per year
- Santa Rosa, CA – $35.92 per hour, $74,720 per year
- Bakersfield, CA – $35.69 per hour, $74,240 per year
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX – $35.16 per hour, $73,130 per year
- Vallejo-Fairfield, CA – $34.94 per hour, $72,670 per year
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary By Type of Office
In addition to location and education, the place where a physical therapy assistant is employed can have a significant effect on salary. Typical places of employment include private or group practice clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home health services.
Here is an overview of the average salaries based on place of employment (BLS May 2021):
- Home Health Care Services – $36.12 per hour, $75,130 per year
- Nursing Care Facilities – $33.60 per hour, $69,890 per year
- Continuing Care Retirement and Assisted Living – $33.43 per hour, $69,530 per year
- Management of Companies and Enterprises – $31.99 per hour, $66.540 per year
- Outpatient Care Centers – $31.63 per hour, $65,790 per year
- Specialty Hospitals (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) – $31.57 per hour, $65,660 per year
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $28.71 per hour, $59,710 per year
- Offices of Other Health Practitioners – $27.55 per hour, $57,300 per year
- Offices of Other Health Practitioners – $27.06 per hour, $56,290 per year
- Offices of Physicians – $26.51 per hour, $55,150 per year
Knowing what salary ranges are for physical therapy assistants can help aspiring professionals determine if this job will be a good fit for their financial goals as well as to have realistic expectations when job hunting. However, wages can frequently land outside of the average due to location, place of employment, work experience, education, and certification.
Lastly, wages shouldn’t be the only determining factor when choosing a job. Other things that can make a workplace desirable include benefits, opportunities for advancement, work hours, proximity to home, and managers.