Become a Physical Therapy Aide

Become a Physical Therapy Aide

Prepare for a rewarding career as an important member of the physical therapy team. This course will teach you about the workings of the human body, various disorders, patient safety, and even how to speak the language of physical therapy.

6 Weeks Access / 24 Course Hrs
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Prepare for a rewarding career as a valued member of the physical therapy team while learning all about the human body, specific disorders, and the way physical therapists treat these disorders. You will explore the history of physical therapy and the relationships between physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, and physical therapy aides. You will learn how to communicate effectively with other health care professionals and patients. You'll also come to understand the medical documentation that physical therapists use and principles of ethics and law that affect the PT aide.

Physical therapists often use words and terms that may be unfamiliar to you, so this course will devote some time to learning much of the language of PT. You'll learn proper body mechanics and how to safely move patients. You will come to understand the normal gait cycle and how to help patients walk with assistive devices like walkers, crutches, and canes. You will also investigate various balance and coordination disorders. By the time you finish this course, you'll have gained valuable knowledge and be well on your way to becoming an important member of the physical therapy team!


In this lesson, you'll be introduced to the profession of physical therapy (PT). You'll learn about the history of PT and how two wars and an epidemic created a need for this profession. To help you understand what makes PTs different from other health care professionals, this course will discuss the types of patients who need PT and the types of treatment PTs use. You'll understand the important difference between PTs, PT assistants, and PT aides as you come to understand the special role of PT aides.

As a PT aide, you'll communicate with many different people, so this lesson will focus on the communication skills you'll need to help you communicate with your supervising PT, patients, and their families. You'll learn about some of the challenges you'll face when communicating with sick or injured people, and how to demonstrate the traits of empathy, respect, and patience. You'll also spend some time on SOAP notes—the method many medical personnel use to document their evaluations and patient treatments.

This very important lesson will help you stay out of trouble by discussing the law and ethics for the PT aide. You'll learn the differences between law and ethics and why you must be concerned about both. You'll go over the American Physical Therapy Association's Code of Ethics, relating its principles to PT aides. You'll also learn about the American Hospital Association's A Patient's Bill of Rights so you'll know how you should treat patients in different situations. You'll want to understand both negligence and malpractice, so this lesson covers those topics, too. Finally, you'll spend some time on the very important topic of patient confidentiality. You can face stiff penalties if you violate patient confidentiality, so you need to have a thorough understanding of this topic.

Have you ever noticed that every profession has its own unique language? The health care profession is no different. As a PT aide, it's vitally important that you understand the language that PTs use, which is the focus of this lesson. You'll cover planes of the body and directional terms. You'll also learn the terms that define the body's major regions and body cavities. The movements of joints have special names; this lesson will define them and include lots of graphics that demonstrate these movements. You'll finish up by learning some other terms related to function and movement in the last chapter.

In this lesson, you'll begin learning about the body's organ systems. You'll go over how your body is organized, from atoms to an entire individual. You'll learn about the muscular, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, circulatory, and lymphatic systems. You'll also learn about the organs in each of these systems, the jobs they perform, and disorders affecting these systems that are commonly treated by PTs.

In this lesson, you'll continue learning about the organ systems. To start out, you'll see how human organ systems are interrelated and how a problem with one system will affect the others. You'll then move on to a discussion of the integumentary (skin), digestive, urinary, respiratory, and reproductive systems. You'll learn about each system's organs, function, and some common disorders. You'll finish the lesson with a discussion of the most important concept in human physiology—homeostasis. Homeostasis means the drive of your body to keep many different variables, like blood pressure and temperature, within a certain range. You'll find out why this is so crucial and how you might be asked to monitor homeostasis while caring for patients.

You'll start learning about specific safety issues in this lesson, focusing on infection control. Anyone working in healthcare must understand the meaning of infection, its causes, and how it spreads. To help you understand this, this lesson discusses the chain of infection and what you can do to break that chain so that the infection doesn't spread from one person to another. You'll spend some time on an infection called MRSA because it's so common and dangerous. Since proper hand hygiene is the most effective way to stop infection from spreading, you'll go over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. You'll also learn about patient-care equipment, environmental control, and the role of vaccinations.

You'll explore important safety issues again in this lesson, but this time, instead of infection, you'll focus on proper body mechanics and safe patient transfers. Body mechanics means the posture of your body and how you move it. You must understand proper body mechanics to protect yourself from injury. The lesson starts out with a discussion of the anatomy of the spine since the spine gets hurt most often when you ignore proper body mechanics. It talks about proper posture and the importance of paying attention to your center of gravity. It also goes over a list of principles for using proper body mechanics and guidelines for moving patients in a variety of different situations. You'll also learn about lifting machines, which PTs now commonly use to transfer patients.

Most people take walking for granted, but many patients must learn to walk again after an illness or injury. PTs often ask their aides to help with this, so you must understand what types of conditions make it hard for people to walk. You should also understand the normal gait cycle, so this lesson will spend some time on that topic and tell you about common deviations from normal gait. You'll also learn about different ambulatory devices, including parallel bars, walkers, crutches, and canes and how they're used in PT.

PTs use physical agents, rather than medications or surgery, to treat patients. These agents include heat, cold, ultrasound, traction, and electricity. To explain these agents, you'll start by learning about the relationship between a disease or injury and one's ability to perform activities of daily living. You'll then follow a fictitious Mrs. Smith as she struggles to recover from a car accident. You'll learn about the physical agents her PT chooses and how they affect her body. You'll end by learning about contraindications (when an agent should never be used) and precautions (when an agent must be used with extra care).

Along with physical agents, PTs use exercise to treat patients. In this lesson, you'll learn about three types of exercise—strength training, aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion exercise. You'll learn how muscles are put together and why resistance is necessary to build strength. This lesson will teach you about three important principles you should know when supervising a strength training program. You'll also go over aerobic exercise and learn how it increases a person's ability to use oxygen. Finally, you'll learn about range-of-motion exercises. You'll find out how PTs measure how far a patient can move a joint and why joints sometimes become limited in their motion. You'll learn about different types of range-of-motion exercises and important principles to follow.

In the final lesson, you'll explore balance, coordination, and developmental delays. This lesson focuses on children, but the information will be helpful if you're treating adults, too. You'll learn about a special sensory system called the vestibular system and how important it is for maintaining balance. You'll view examples of activities PTs use to treat children with balance problems, and learn about the adaptive response—something PTs continually look for when treating children. The lesson will move on to a discussion of developmental coordination disorder, and you'll learn how important it is for professionals to properly diagnose this condition. Moving onto the subject of developmental delays, you'll learn about developmental milestones and how PTs treat children who fail to meet those milestones. You'll also see how PTs use developmental activities with adults who have sustained traumatic brain injuries.



There are no prerequisites to take this course.


Hardware Requirements:

  • This course can be taken on either a PC, Mac, or Chromebook.

Software Requirements:

  • PC: Windows 8 or later.
  • Mac: macOS 10.6 or later.
  • Browser: The latest version of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox are preferred. Microsoft Edge and Safari are also compatible.
  • Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Software must be installed and fully operational before the course begins.


  • Email capabilities and access to a personal email account.

Instructional Material Requirements:

The instructional materials required for this course are included in enrollment and will be available online.


Holly Trimble

Holly Trimble earned a bachelor's degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Colorado, a master's degree in Pediatric Physical Therapy from Boston University, a master's degree in Biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy from Arcadia University. After working as a physical therapist for many years, Dr. Trimble transitioned into teaching. She has lectured on health-related topics to all age groups and has taught middle and high school science courses in both private and public school settings. She currently teaches Anatomy and Physiology for a local community college system, where she has taught for the past 15 years. Holly received the Adjunct Faculty Excellence Award both of the years she was nominated and is the author of the eBook, "College Success Now!"


This instructor made this class very interesting for me. She is incredibly knowledgeable, not only in her field of physical therapy but in teaching as well. She conveyed the material in a very understandable way. In many instances, I would tell my husband about the many things I learned throughout the chapters. For someone who is considering a career change, this was the perfect course to gain insight. I loved this course and I thought the teacher was exceptional. I plan to take another course that she teaches. Also, I really liked how the quizzes and assignments were set up twice per week. Great format!

I loved taking this course and found it very interesting. Along with us putting in our personal input, Ms. Holly also put in hers, which doesn't happen often. Hopefully I will be able to find other classes that are online that you teach.

The anatomical pictures, charts, and descriptions were first-rate! I hold a bachelor's degree in education and five nationally recognized personal training certifications, including a rehabilitative exercise specialist certification… This course had the best presentation and was the easiest to comprehend that I have been exposed to in my 30 years of teaching fitness.

The instructor was very professional and the class material was very useful. She also had wonderful web sites with lots of information besides the class material which was very helpful and great for future use.

I felt this course was very informative and written in an understandable manner. I also enjoyed the illustrations, they were well done and provided great visuals for the lessons. Overall, I feel I have learned a great deal and will hopefully be able to take what I've learned and become a contributing PT Aide in a PT office or environment. I would recommend this course to others.

This is a very informative course, and I feel a great place for me to have started in my quest for a new career. Having been out of school for many years while raising a family, it was the perfect place for me to start in returning to "school". Thank you so much...I really enjoyed this course!

The instructor was very professional and the class material was very useful. She also had wonderful web sites with lots of information besides the class material which was very helpful and great for future use.

The course was well written. I currently work as a physical therapy aide and this course complimented my work in the field. Thank you and best regards.

I found this course interesting and very easy to follow. I am new to the computer and was apprehensive about being able to keep up and understand, but it was quite simple and informative. I would recommend this course to any one who has an interest in the subject. It’s been a pleasure.

This is an excellent course. The instructor's knowledge of the subject matter and the professional, easy to understand presentation of the material were excellent. I learned a lot from taking the course and I was given many ways to continue learning about the profession and its capabilities on my own. It was a very enjoyable learning experience.

Self-Guided Course Code: T9696
Instructor-Moderated Course Code: pta