man seeing a physical therapist for injury

While personal trainers and physical therapists (PT) both strive to help people improve fitness, strength, and movement goals, they are members of two distinctly different professions. The educational background, specialized training, and scope of practice are vastly different for each professional.


Personal Trainer

Although some personal trainers have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, there are no specific educational requirements or standards for the profession, making the profession self-regulating. However, to qualify for more job opportunities and to enhance their reputation and credibility, many personal trainers pursue certification and advanced training.

Many businesses that employ personal trainers require them to be certified through an accredited agency such as the American Council on Exercise or the National Academy of Sports Medicine. Other requirements often include certification in first aid and in using an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

Some personal trainers opt to pursue one or more specialty certifications, which may include youth or senior fitness, bodybuilding, group exercise, weight loss, and more.

Unless they are also a licensed physical therapist, personal trainers cannot diagnose an injury or health condition or prescribe a rehabilitation program. Personal trainers may work alongside physical therapy patients, helping them continue to improve their fitness levels.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are licensed, health professionals. To become licensed, they must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited education program. The program usually takes three to five years to complete.

They must then pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and fulfill state licensure requirements. To maintain their license, PTs must complete a state specified number of continuing education hours every two years.

In addition, a physical therapist may choose to become board certified as a clinical specialist in one of nine specialties, including cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical, geriatric, orthopedic, neurology, pediatric, oncology, women’s health, electrophysiologic, and sports.

A licensed physical therapist is qualified to evaluate, diagnose, and treat movement and pain issues, and to design a personalized recovery program for each client. The goal of physical therapy is to improve movement, reduce and manage pain, and prevent disability.

Scope of Training

Personal Trainer

Personal trainers usually work one-on-one with their clients or in small groups to achieve fitness and health goals. If a client has any pre-existing injuries or health conditions, they should not work with a personal trainer unless their physician has cleared them to do so.

Clients come to a personal trainer with specific goals, such as losing weight, strengthening muscles, increasing flexibility, or improving their endurance, sports performance, or overall fitness level.

Personal trainers assess a client’s fitness then design an exercise training program to achieve the client’s goals. They instruct clients on the safe use of exercise equipment and how to perform individualized floor exercises to avoid injury. They push, motivate, and support clients to stick to the program in order to reach their goals.

In order to design the most appropriate program to help clients achieve their fitness goals, a personal trainer may:

  • Have the client perform a brief workout to assess their fitness level (which includes their flexibility, strength, and endurance).
  • Take body composition measurements (such as the proportion of body fat to muscle).
  • Develop a customized exercise program to help their client meet their personal goals.

If a client shows signs of pain or other limitations during evaluation or during the personal training program, the trainer must refer them to a qualified rehabilitation expert and should not attempt to diagnose or treat the issue themselves.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are movement experts, trained to work with people who have an injury or condition that limits their movement, reduces their ability to perform everyday activities, or adversely impacts their quality of life. PTs also help athletes recover from sports injuries and improve athletic performance.

Physical therapists treat a wide range of disorders, including back and neck pain, sports injuries, post-surgical healing, age-related issues, joint problems, sprains, strains, fractures, amputation, stroke, and other functional issues or injuries.

Although many people believe they have to be in pain or experiencing serious dysfunction in order to qualify for physical therapy treatment, that is not the case. Physical therapists evaluate, diagnose, and treat conditions before they become worse and help prevent future disabilities from occurring. In fact, studies show that physical therapy is most effective when done early and with intensity and frequency.

Besides hands-on treatment, stretches, and exercises, physical therapists use a variety of tools and procedures to improve functional mobility, range of motion, flexibility, strength, and decrease pain. Tools may include exercise ball, resistance band, treadmill, exercise bike, heat or cold therapy, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation, laser therapy, suspension training unit, Pilates reformer, functional training machine, and other modalities.

Physical therapists usually teach clients a home exercise program to help speed recovery during their in-clinic program and to help them maintain progress after completion of the program. When patients continue practicing home exercises after their physical therapy program ends, they maintain strength and flexibility and reduce the risk of reoccurrence.

To design the most effective rehabilitation program for each client, a physical therapist must first diagnose any injuries or other conditions adversely affecting the individual. They will do this by:

  • Reviewing a client’s complete medical history.
  • Consulting physician notes, if applicable.
  • Discussing with the client their previous level of function, how the injury or condition is affecting their life, and their goals for improved function.
  • Taking measurements to determine movement, strength, joint range of motion, and more in order to establish a baseline.

The physical therapist then uses this information, including client input and test results, to develop a personalized treatment plan which may include exercises, functional movement training, the use of equipment such as canes or crutches or other tools, manipulation of joints and muscles to enhance movement, and a pain management plan. Part of the treatment plan includes a home exercise program, which the client is expected to perform independently.

Why Consider MOTION for Your Physical Therapy Needs?

Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical and occupational therapy services to clients of all ages. We are also proud to offer a specialized Post-Acute COVID Recovery Program for those struggling to regain their health and vitality after suffering from COVID-19.

We pride ourselves on our personalized attention and commitment to each client, the expertise of our staff, and our state-of-the-art facilities. At MOTION, our mission is “to get you back to what moves you,” as quickly as possible.

We understand how difficult it is to accomplish even the smallest of daily activities when you are experiencing pain and impaired movement. That’s why we work closely with our clients to develop personalized plans that meet their goals.

At MOTION, we encourage you to work in partnership with us throughout your therapy. We value your input and promise to listen to your feedback. We understand that you know your body best. By combining your knowledge and intuition with our specialized training, we will be successful.

It is critical that you attend scheduled PT sessions and regularly practice the home exercise program we design for you. By working together, we are confident you can achieve optimum healing and return to the highest possible level of function.

At MOTION, we are proud of the feedback we receive from current or past clients stating how physical therapy has improved their lives. That moves us to do what we do.

Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.