After all, the acronym for both is “PT.” Most of us know that the two – Physical Therapist and Personal Trainer – are different professions, but sometimes there is confusion about who does what. There is certainly some overlap between the professions. I am a physical therapist but also have a personal training certification. However, a personal trainer cannot be a physical therapist without the proper schooling, board exam, and licensure.

I had a patient say to me once, “I had a personal trainer, but I stopped going since that’s pretty much what you are.” I could have taken offense, but it’s a perfect opportunity to educate. Let’s discuss the differences!

Education Requirements

Physical therapists must obtain a clinical doctorate degree, called a Doctor of Physical Therapy. They must first complete a bachelor’s degree, including plenty of science and math, and observation hours in different clinical settings before they can apply to a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree program through a licensed university. Once they complete the Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree, students must sit for board exams to get licensed to practice by a state.

Personal trainers  having varying levels of education, but they all obtain a certification offered by a private organization, often take a written exam, in order to call themselves a personal trainer. They are certified, but not licensed by the state. The depth of knowledge by personal trainers varies.

Differences in the Job

This is where people get confused, I think. Physical therapists do a lot of exercise with patients; however, our exercises are based on clinical reasoning to sometimes diagnose and address a certain impairment. It may be to rehabilitate an injury, get someone moving out of a hospital bed, or improve function after a stroke. We work not only in gym spaces, but in hospitals, long term care facilities, outpatient clinics, and in the home.

Personal trainers work with people who need guidance in exercise programming, but trainers cannot diagnose or treat an injury. They may focus on muscle strength or cardiovascular function, where a therapist might focus on improving someone’s gait. There are specialist certifications a trainer can receive if they have experience, such as exercising someone with a history of cancer or working with women after pregnancy.

How can the two work together?

I love working with personal trainers. Designing proper exercise tailored to the individual is a difficult skill. In a perfect world, I  – a physical therapist – would love to treat a patient in the clinic and once they reach the end of their “rehab” phase, but perhaps are not quite 100%, we send them to a personal trainer to take them the rest of the way. Wellness programs are a great way to get this relationship going.

Are you nervous about starting an exercise program?

Never fear! Come and see us at Peak Form and we can evaluate you for any injury risk and recommend whether a personal trainer or physical therapy is appropriate for you!