Vital Sign Assessment
PTA 101 Intro to Clinical Practice 1

Instructional Use Statement

The following information is used for instructional purposes for students enrolled in the Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Lane Community College. It is not intended for commercial use or distribution or commercial purposes. It is not intended to serve as medical advice or treatment.

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Vital Sign Basics

Direct link to screencast above:

Lesson Objectives

  1. Identify the vital signs
  2. Describe equipment and landmarks used in vital sign assessment
  3. Describe the expected normal and abnormal changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate resulting from exercise and other factors.
  4. Recognize normal and abnormal body temperature
  5. Define common medical terms associated with vital sign assessment and documentation
  6. Compare and contrast attributes of standardized instruments to assess pain
  7. Recognize when to monitor vital signs during a patient encounter



Self check: There are FIVE vital signs. Can you list these? HINT - They are nested in the objectives above



Blood Pressure Tutorial

Click here to test your understanding of blood pressure measurement rationale and procedures

Now Test Yourself



Pain Assessment Tools

 Pain as a vital sign

There is a variety of general-to-specific methods of measuring and documenting pain. Next week, you have an essay on the clinical application of pain scales. A few are included in your text, and I have linked some additional, standardized assessment tools for pain in the table below. Standardized measures can be very powerful tools to document changes in quality of life and in functional activities as a result of physical therapy. Progress and declines (regressions) are easily supported by changes in pain measures.

You can prepare for your essay assignment and for the exam/lab by completing the following table

Note taking table for comparing/contrasting pain scales

Assessment Tool



Visual Analog Scale (VAS)



Faces Pain Rating Scale



Mc Gill Pain Questionnaire



Oswestry Disability Questionnaire



When you were observing therapists at the clinic, how did therapists gather information about pain? Think about age, culture, cognition (thinking), time, relevance, and function. (links to podcast) All of the assessment tools listed above are used to collect data about pain. Could you explain to your supervising PT why you selected a particular tool? Critical thinking wtih decision-making is demonstrated by your ability to provide a rationale for your choice that is patient-specific and evidence-based.



Podcast on documenting vital signs

Vital signs are objective data that provide information about physiological status and responses to stress. Ideally, vital signs are collected before engaging in physical activity, particularly in the deconditioned population. When vital signs are abnormal, the PTA may need to modify treatment approaches or consult with their supervising PT or nursing staff. Documenting vital signs taken throughout the physical therapy session provide evidence of ongoing patient assessment and monitoring.

PTAs make informed decisions when selecting exercises and other interventions by interpreting vital sign measures prior and during treatment. Document findings using consistent terminology and include patient position/situation (lying, sitting, standing) so that the data is transferable and can be interpreted by a multidisciplinary team. Pain documentation should include a rating, location, and other information about its quality.


Vital Sign


Heart Rate (HR)

# bpm

Respiratory Rate (RR)

# / min

Blood Pressure (BP)

systolic (mm Hg)/ diastolic (mm Hg)

Temperature (temp)


°C or °F


Pain (pn)

# / 10, or other standardized measure

Oxygen Saturation (O2 sat)



# %


Sample chart note excerpt

S: Pt lying with HOB elevated. Eager to work on getting OOB. Slept better last NOC. Agreeable to in bed exs.

O: Pain 2/10 ache R hip, VS â Rx: BP 146/82, HR 74bpm, RR 14/min, O2 sats 95%

{additional treatment information would follow here, including any additional VS measures collected during the session}

Role of the PTA


Exam Success

  1. Can you recall normal and abnormal values for the vital signs?
  2. Can you use correct medical terminology to describe/document an abnormal finding?
  3. Can you describe lifestyle factors which may impact vital sign measures?
  4. Do you understand the benefits and challenges of pain assessment tools covered in this unit?
  5. Can you describe typical pain patterns specific to involved structures?
  6. What is the point of maximum intensity (PMI) when assessing HR?
  7. Where can you measure a pulse?

 Self Checks

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End of Lecture

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