becoming an occupational or physical therapy assistant at SLCHC

What Is the Difference Between a Physical Therapy Assistant and an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Do you get satisfaction from helping people overcome challenges and reach their goals? Are you interested in a career in healthcare but you’re unsure which path to take? Do you prefer a job that allows you to move around instead of sitting behind a desk?

If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you may want to consider becoming a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). While these names sound similar, and there is some overlap between PTAs and OTAs, their fundamental goals are different. Physical therapists focus on restoring their patients’ mobility, range of motion, stability and strength, while occupational therapists focus more on fine tuning smaller, more specialized movements like dressing, feeding or using a toothbrush.


What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy helps people recover from injuries or illnesses that limit their mobility and includes techniques like massage, hot or cold therapy, water therapy, exercise and stretching. A doctor may prescribe physical therapy as a non-invasive alternative to surgery or to aid in post-surgical recovery. Patients may also engage in physical therapy to heal injury-related pain or to build strength and stamina in their bodies to prevent future injuries.

Let’s say a person who’s out of shape engages in strenuous physical activity and hurts their lower back. A physical therapist may evaluate their condition and develop a personalized care plan to alleviate the patient’s pain while strengthening their core. These exercises will be performed either at a physical therapy clinic or at home, depending on the patient’s preferences and mobility. The PTA may also teach the patient special exercises outside of therapy to accelerate the healing process.


What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy also aims to improve patient mobility. However, the approach is more nuanced and focuses primarily on helping people perform daily activities and the things they love as independently as possible. This includes things like:

  • Getting out of bed
  • Preparing food
  • Taking care of personal hygiene
  • Getting dressed
  • Eating
  • Driving
  • Shopping
  • Playing games and sports
  • Playing instruments
  • And more

When OTAs work with patients to perform daily tasks, they focus more on helping the person adapt to a disability or limited ranged of motion, rather than focusing solely on building or regaining strength.

OT patients may have trouble performing the simplest activities, and the OTA can help them gain back their confidence and independence.


Where do PTAs and OTAs work?

Many PTAs and OTAs work at hospitals where they help patients who have had traumatic brain injuries, strokes, orthopedic surgeries, spinal injuries and more. Other work settings include clinics, private homes, schools and nursing homes.


What Is the Pay Range for PTAs and OTAs?

Both professions offer generous pay. However, OTAs generally have a wider range of responsibilities or career specializations, which allows them to earn more than PTAs.

The median salary for established PTAs was around $50,000 per year in 2020, while the median annual wage for established OTAs was $61,000. With a projected 32 percent growth for PTAs and a 34 percent growth for OTAs within the next 10 years, these salaries are likely to significantly grow as demand for trained OTA and PTA professionals increases.


Study at St. Louis College of Health Careers to Become a PTA or an OTA

If you’re thinking about a career is physical therapy or occupational therapy, consider getting a degree from St. Louis College of Health Careers.

We are an accredited higher education institution that has been helping students fulfill their educational endeavors for more than 40 years. Our challenging and relevant PTA and OTA programs prepare you to work alongside experienced physical and occupational therapists. You will also be eligible to apply for the FSBPT and COTA certifications to become fully certified in either physical therapy or occupational therapy.

If you’re interested in pursuing an engaging and fulfilling career in health care, call 866-529-2070 or contact us online to learn more.

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