Wondering What the Difference is Between a PT and PTA?

There are two types of professionals who can provide care within a physical therapy clinic: a physical therapist (PT) and a physical therapist assistant (PTA). Some clinics may also employ a physical therapy technician or aide who completes on the job training and assists therapists in their duties.


A PT attends graduate school in physical therapy after obtaining their bachelor’s degree (for most, 7 years of higher education!). As of 2015, all graduates now have their DPT or Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Following graduation from an accredited program, new PTs then sit for the national exam in order to become licensed in physical therapy. They must then keep up their license by completing continuing education. Each state has different requirements, with Colorado requiring 30 hours of continuing education to be completed every two years.

PTA’s receive an associates degrees from an accredited program, and must also sit for a national licensure exam to obtain their PTA license. PTA’s practice alongside PT’s, and can perform many of the same techniques as PT’s.

The biggest difference between a PT and a PTA is that PTA’s cannot perform an initial evaluation or create a plan of care. These diagnostic and evaluative skills are only to be performed by a licensed physical therapist. After this initial visit, both PT’s and PTA’s are qualified to administer treatments and perform manual techniques, with the exception of some higher level skills such as dry needling and joint manipulation.

Other than those differences listed above, PT’s and PTA’s can treat in very similar ways. Both practitioners may review or develop a home exercise program, progress or add new exercises based on your plan of care, perform hands on techniques such as massage or joint mobilization to get you moving better, and answer questions or educate you on your injury or illness.

Here at CACC, we employ only PT’s and PTA’s, both obtaining higher degrees in their fields and passing a licensure exam. Our setting is unique in that we work in teams of both a PT and PTA to maintain continuity of care. With our model, you have access to two trained professionals who are both working to get you feeling better.