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Physical Therapist or Personal Trainer, Aren't They Both P.T.'s?

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

It’s true, we both use the abbreviation P.T. when referring to our professions and this can understandably be confusing to people as we are not the same thing. That being said, while we each have our own & different roles in the exercise & fitness world, there is a common misconception that we are competitors of each other. It is my opinion that personal trainers and physical therapists are their best when they work together and learn from each other. But before I tell you why, let me lay out for you the basic differences between a physical therapist and a personal trainer.


In order to become a physical therapist you have to obtain a bachelor’s degree and a doctoral of physical therapy degree—that is seven years of schooling in total. Physical therapists thrive in all aspects of medicine both in the hospital and in outpatient settings. They work with a wide range of patients suffering from orthopedic, cardiac, neurological, pulmonary & vestibular issues. They work with newborns, toddlers and children with developmental delays, adults, athletes and with our geriatric population to minimize deconditioning and maintain independence. Physical Therapists are found in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, acute rehabilitation facilities, gyms, universities, college & professional sports teams & also can come to your home. Typically physical therapy clinics take insurance however there are some who are out of network providers or are a cash-based business.


Physical therapists go through extensive training in order to understand the anatomy & physiology of the entire body—yes we know the names of all the muscles, bones, organs, blood vessels and nerves. We have to understand how all our body systems are supposed to work together in order to fix any broken links. We have to understand how a broken link in one area of the body may impact another. For example, if my lovely patient Betty has a heart condition that is exacerbated and causing her to have more labored breathing, can this cause neck pain? The answer is yes, absolutely! We are trained to give clinical physical therapy diagnoses and prognoses based on the patients medical history & our evaluation. We take that information and create an individualized plan including both exercise & manual treatments designed to improve the function and reduce the pain of the patient. We thrive best in the early stages of rehab, returning patients to their activities of daily living. Send me a patient who is on crutches and can’t walk with out a painful limp and I got them! I will get them better! Send me a patient who has no pain and wants to work on Olympic lifting…I will probably send them to a personal trainer, because you know what, honestly, I think they’ll do a better job!


Now, on to personal trainers! I will admit I did some reading up on how personal trainers like to describe themselves, because while I have my perception of their day-to-day and how they fit in to the exercise & fitness world, I wanted to make sure that I represented them accurately. Still, not convinced that I hit the nail on this one perfectly, but please give me grace! Nothing here is written with malintent or designed to misrepresent the personal training field. In order to become a personal trainer you must complete a certification course where you are tested on your knowledge of the body, principles of fitness & exercise, how to safely & optimally improve strength, endurance, cardiovascular fitness & flexibility. Personal Trainers are typically found in a gym or studio or will come to your home. Personal training is usually a cash-based business and insurance does not cover personal training.


Just as in physical therapy, there are some personal trainers that are better than others. Now, part of this may just be whether you click with that trainers style and way they like to work out. However, it is my opinion that those trainers who go out of their way to continue to learn, take continuing education classes and further their knowledge beyond what is tested on the certification exam are the ones that are worth their weight in gold. Those are the trainers that you want to seek out, the ones that you can be confident won’t hurt you or push you too hard while still reaching your goals. Personal trainers thrive in taking an uninjured person and improving their overall health by helping to reduce weight, helping to improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance which is absolutely vital for all of us as we age.


Now, I said we work well together, but, how when you both have similar goals? Well, that is exactly what we can leverage. We can work together to reach a common goal—helping our patient/client. At a very simple level, physical therapists work well to rehab the body, to heal an injury and any imbalances causing pain. Personal Trainers can take those patients to the next level by using that foundation to help improve the patients strength, endurance and overall fitness so that they are better off than before they got injured. Doesn’t that sound nice? I think so! I am one of the biggest proponents of personal training and love to send my patients who are ready to graduate from physical therapy to a good personal trainer. Just as I can send patients to personal trainers, I also love getting referrals from personal trainers. I find we work well as a team, working closely with the trainer throughout the patients rehab is beneficial for two reasons---1) they have known the patient longer & have a good understanding of the patients problems 2) they provide an alternative perspective. Ever heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one?”


Long story short, physical therapists and personal trainers have many things in common but also occupy their individual spots in the health and fitness world. Find yourself an excellent physical therapist and a skilled personal trainer who can work together to optimize your health and you will be in good shape.


If you are looking for a physical therapist or personal trainer then feel free to email us at info@rehabitphysicaltherapy.com and we would be happy to help connect you with the best in the industry, in our humble opinion!

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