Physical therapy professional helping a man navigate obstacles on the floor

The Role of PTAs in Neurological Rehabilitation

The Vital and Impactful World of Neurological Physical Therapy

Physical therapy professional helping a man navigate obstacles on the floor

When it comes to neurological rehabilitation, the role of a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) is to help patients perform therapeutic interventions that increase their endurance, balance, and coordination. These professionals promote neurological health and wellness by supporting physical therapists at clinics nationwide.

People with neurological conditions require treatment for movement problems that stem from disease or injury that affects their nervous systems. This is where teams with Physical Therapist Assistants can help. With a physical therapy plan of care in place, neurological patients can utilize services that boost independence and enhance their daily lives.

This blog post will explore the specific contributions and challenges of PTAs in treating neurological patients. We’ll also review the duties, techniques, and educational requirements for becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant. Learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant and consider the top PTA jobs to see if this career path suits you.

Understanding Neurological Physical Therapy

Neurological PTAs assist physical therapists when it comes to the treatment and rehabilitation of neurological conditions. They aim to restore physical function and mobility. They might encounter patients who have suffered from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, or multiple sclerosis. Neurological PTAs focus on addressing impairments and disabilities that result from neurological conditions.

Other conditions treated by neurological physical therapists and PTAs may include:

  • Balance disorders
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Tumors in the central or peripheral nervous systems
  • Pediatric conditions like spina bifida or cerebral palsy
  • Peripheral neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome

The Role of PTAs in Neurological Rehabilitation

Neurological Physical Therapist Assistants implement treatment plans for mobility training, gait re-education, and functional activities. Using various techniques, such as manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular re-education, and patient education. These professionals restore neurological function by supporting physical therapists at various facilities across the country. Under the supervision of physical therapists, Neurological PTAs guide patients through patient specific programs designed to promote recovery, independence, and community reintegration.

In these sessions, physical therapists and PTAs strive to improve the following:

  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Tone
  • Movement patterns
  • Functional abilities

Additionally, Neurological PTAs must maintain a collaborative approach and work with physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other healthcare professionals to optimize patient outcomes. PTAS not only implement treatment plans but also monitor patient progress. Above all, they promote and facilitate functional independence.

Close up of a medical professional helping a patient use a walker

Common Conditions Treated by PTAs in Neurological Patients

PTAs encounter a wide range of conditions and disorders when treating patients in rehabilitation settings, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries. Take a closer look at each condition with us.


Did you know that strokes are sometimes referred to as “brain attacks?” This is because strokes usually occur when the blood supply is partially blocked or when a blood vessel ruptures in your brain. Unfortunately, some areas of the brain may die and/or become damaged. Strokes may cause long-term injury, disability, or death.

Symptoms can include trouble speaking, vision issues, walking difficulties, headaches, and numbness in your arm, leg, or face. As previously mentioned, there are two primary causes of a stroke. A blocked artery in the brain causes an ischemic stroke, while a leaking or a burst in a blood vessel causes a hemorrhagic stroke.

Physical therapy can greatly help patients regain their strength and movement after suffering from a stroke. A physical therapy team will likely use targeted interventions to help patients improve their balance, coordination, and range of motion. In addition, they may use several types of equipment on a patient’s healing journey.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that targets the nervous system. Although it has no cure, there are various treatments that can help to maintain function and slow its progress. . However, genes and environmental triggers may play a significant role. The most visible symptom is a tremor or shake in your hands. You might also notice stiffness in your movements, or perhaps changes in speech. There may even be less or no expression on your face.

Like those who suffer from a stroke, patients with Parkinson’s disease normally benefit from physical therapy. These professionals manage symptoms with individualized programs, focusing on balance issues, mobility deficits, and rigidity. Physical therapy can help improve strength, flexibility, and posture, enhancing overall mobility and function.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) covers a group of disorders that affect a person’s development, movement, and posture. It is typically caused by a brain injury that can occur before, during, or after birth. Some injuries may be the result of trauma, a stroke, or any loss of oxygen.

Those who have CP can have difficulty with many systems in the body. For example, CP can cause seizures, speech issues, developmental and cognitive delay, and sensory abnormalities. Physical therapy can help those with CP throughout each stage of their life. The goal of physical therapy is to improve mobility functions and daily activities. Under the supervision of a physical therapist, PTAs can help people with CP perform tasks like walking and using an assistive device or wheelchair in various situations. Additionally, these professionals can help families receive equipment to support their loved ones with CP.

Spinal Cord Injuries

As the name suggests, spinal cord injuries cause damage to the spinal cord. Some of these conditions might include herniated discs, vertebral fractures, abscesses, and more. The spinal cord is a tubelike structure that holds a bunch of nerves that travel from your brain, through the spinal column, and into the far reaches of your limbs. There are various symptoms of a spinal cord injury, such as back pain, muscle spasms, loss of sensation, paralysis or weakness, changes in reflexes, etc. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of spinal cord injuries (in the United States) are the following:

  • Car accidents
  • Falls
  • Violent encounters
  • Sports injuries
  • Diseases

Although it depends on the location and severity, treatment of spinal cord injuries often includes physical and/or occupational therapy. Through physical therapy, rehabilitation specialists can manage individualized, long-term therapy plans.

Physical therapy professional helping a patient with neurological rehabilitation

Techniques Utilized in Neurological Rehabilitation

Physical Therapist Assistants use various techniques and modalities to assist patients with neurological conditions. They may utilize neurodevelopmental treatment (NDT), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and constraint-induced movement therapy (CIMT). PTAs emphasize the importance of task-specific training and motor relearning principles. They also employ adaptive equipment to optimize functional outcomes for neurological patients.

Keep in mind that Neurological PTAs must adhere to individualized treatment plans and provide patient education to optimize outcomes and prevent re-injury. Here are a few other techniques that a physical therapy team might use for neurological patients:

  • Gait training with equipment or assistive devices
  • Therapeutic movements and strengthening exercises
  • Balance activities
  • Adaptive methods for recreation or sports
  • Education on movements and activity patterns
  • Specialized services for rehabilitation
    • Wheelchair fitting
    • Safety assessments in the home
    • Training for assistive devices or prosthetics

How to Become a Neurological Physical Therapist Assistant

Because Neurological PTAs must meet the basic requirements, they will need to graduate from an accredited associate-degree program and pass the NPTE exam. Some professionals in this field will also pursue certification in neurological rehabilitation. See the American Physical Therapy Association to learn more about specialized training in several areas of physical therapy.

Our guide breaks down what it takes to become a Neurological Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

If you’d like to become a PTA in the U.S., you will need to earn an associate degree from a PTA program that’s accredited by CAPTE. It’s important to remember that each program will have its own set of admissions requirements. To give you a better idea, the PTA degree program at Unitek College requires a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and more. In addition, the Unitek College program requires background checks and drug screenings.

While your PTA education will likely include some general education requirements, most of your program will focus on core classes like anatomy, physical ailments, medical terminology, and patient care. Students also typically learn about kinesiology and equipment operation, not to mention mental health and legal issues. Ask your program director what elective courses you can try to specialize further in this area of physical therapy.

Close up of a woman using a laptop and calculator

2. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

In order to obtain your PTA license and start your career, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). This test demonstrates your mastery of the necessary skills to perform as a PTA. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. Keep in mind that you’ll have four hours to complete this exam.

If you’re nervous about taking the test, you might want to speak with graduates who have been in this situation. Talk to your teachers and counselors. Consider practice exams, too. Visit the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website to learn more about these exams. They offer PEAT, or the Practice Exam and Assessment Tool, to provide you with an idea of what to expect on the exam. However, it’s important to remember that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

3. Obtain Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

After you’ve successfully completed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s usually easy to transfer your scores to apply for licensure in different states. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Although some states have different requirements for maintaining your PTA license, most states will require the completion of continuing education classes, known as CEU’s; proof of current employment; and relevant work experience.

4.Gain Work Experience and Additional Certifications

The next step is to build your resume and gain work experience. If you’d like to stand out from other job candidates, you should also obtain certification in basic life support (BLS). PTAs who would like to specialize in neurological rehabilitation should apply for jobs with neurological physical therapists. Not only is this one of the most valuable ways to gain experience, but it can also serve as an excellent networking opportunity.

In addition, you might want to consider advanced specialization or certification. Look into a certification called Recognition of Advanced Proficiency in Neurology with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Challenges of Treating Neurological Patients

Physical Therapist Assistants face several challenges in neurological settings, such as managing spasticity, addressing cognitive impairments, and facilitating community reintegration. Some strategies to overcome these challenges can include effective family/caregiver education and interdisciplinary collaboration. Above all else, Neurological PTAs must ensure that they provide patient-centered care.

In addition, PTAs in this setting must know how to properly interact with neurological patients. This includes having strong social and emotional skills. Again, since Neurological PTAs work directly with vulnerable people, they should have great interpersonal skills and compassionate natures.

Physical therapy professional helping an elderly man lift weights

Benefits of Treating Neurological Patients

Healthcare professionals usually find it very rewarding to work with neurological patients. Not only can PTAs make a significant impact on their quality of life, but they can also provide these patients with as much functional independence as possible. They can gain a great deal of fulfillment by witnessing vulnerable populations improve mobility, independence, and overall well-being. There is much satisfaction to be had in helping patients regain confidence and return to their daily activities following neurological rehabilitation.

Neurological PTAs empower patients to take an active role in their recovery and long-term health. They derive fulfillment from helping patients achieve numerous milestones. In physical therapy, PTAs provide holistic care and support to neurological patients throughout their rehabilitation journey.

Your Journey into Physical Therapy Starts Here

In conclusion, this guide sheds light on the career path of a Neurological Physical Therapist Assistant. For people who love the idea of helping patients with neurological conditions regain their mobility, improve daily functions, and promote independence, becoming a Neurological PTA could be an ideal career choice. Physical therapy can also boost the mental health of neurological patients and provide PTAs with a great deal of job satisfaction. Now and in the future, there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like Neurological Physical Therapist Assistants.

There are many rewarding aspects of a career in neurological physical therapy, such as positively impacting the recovery and daily routines of neurological patients. If this is one of your career goals, pursuing your passion for neurological therapy with ongoing education and professional development in this dynamic field is essential. Unitek College offers a Physical Therapist Assistant program in Sacramento and several other healthcare programs. They are designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed for a successful healthcare career.

At Unitek, we aim to provide you with the necessary skills and experience to excel as a Physical Therapist Assistant. We want you ready to contribute as compassionate, ethical professionals who uphold the dignity of their patients. Upon graduating, we also want to prepare you for licensure by helping you confidently undertake the National Physical Therapy Exam. In addition, our career services team offers several perks. They provide students with mock interviews and networking opportunities with potential employers. They also offer resume critiques to help each student succeed in becoming a PTA.

Join us today!