Physical Therapist vs. Personal Trainer: What’s the Difference?

personal trainer vs PT

As people are looking to get healthy, there are often questions about who they should consult with. Who is going to help them the most? Honestly, it depends on your goals. When looking for who to get help from, some may confuse personal trainers and physical therapists thinking they are the same thing. While they do share some similarities, they are actually very different!

What are the similarities?

While they are technically in different fields, the goal of physical therapists and personal trainers is essentially the same. Their primary objective is to help people attain optimal health and function. Listed below are the ways that physical therapists & personal trainers could be compared to as the same.

Knowledge Base

Both physical therapists and personal trainers have a comprehensive knowledge of the human body, including both anatomy and physiology. Physical therapists tend to have a more in-depth knowledge of human anatomy, while personal trainers focus more on the musculoskeletal anatomy.

Additionally, physical therapists and personal trainers both have a broad knowledge base of exercises that their clients & patients can do. Physical therapists, however, will assign specific exercises to each of their clients/patients based on their injuries and medical history to help treat the injury & prevent further injuries. Although a personal trainer may have some knowledge of exercises someone with an injury or condition can or cannot do, it is always best to consult with a physician prior to getting started!



Physical therapists and most personal trainers are able to develop preventative programs, as well as total wellness plans for their clients/patients. Both specialties promote a healthy lifestyle and whole-body health & wellness.

While a personal trainer can guide you on exercises & stretches to do and, sometimes, diet, a physical therapist has the ability to give you much more. For example, in a traditional physical therapy office, you can expect manual work, stretches, exercises, and additional modalities such as ultrasound, cold laser, heat/ice, and electrical stimulation. They are able to perform traction and mobilizations. Overall, the variety of services a physical therapist can offer is much greater than that of a personal trainer.

What are the main differences?


Schooling Personal trainers go through a certification process with an accredited certification program. This process could last from 6 weeks to 6 months, ending in an exam that the trainer must pass. Certifications usually last about 2 years, and no advanced degree is required. Certified personal trainers will use the acronym ‘CPT’ after their name, meaning “Certified Personal Trainer.”

The education for a physical therapist is much more intensive. Most physical therapists will obtain a Bachelor’s degree in science, kinesiology, or a similar field. After graduating and completing a certain number of volunteer/observation hours, they will continue on to graduate school, where they will receive their Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Physical therapists are also required to pass a board exam to obtain their license. Physical therapists will use the acronym ‘DPT’ after their name, meaning “Doctor of Physical Therapy.”

By Definition Personal trainers are health & fitness professionals. The main duty of a personal trainer is to create and implement exercise programs for their clients with the goal of maintaining or improving their health. Their programs usually focus on weight loss, muscle building, or athletic conditioning. Personal training clients usually will not have any physical limitations or active injuries. Personal trainers cannot diagnose or treat injuries or illnesses, and most personal trainers are not permitted to offer nutritional advice. Most personal trainers work in gyms, health clubs, or own their own practices.

Physical therapists are medical professionals. They treat, and help patients manage pain. The primary focus of a physical therapist is rehabilitation and injury recovery, as well as restoring and improving mobility. Physical therapists have an extensive knowledge of the movement of the body. They know how the body moves, and how it should move- so they can easily determine any imbalances with their patients. They establish plans of care for individuals who have been injured, or who suffer from different ailments such as arthritis, neurological disorders, or developmental injuries. Physical therapists can work in inpatient and outpatient facilities, clinics, hospitals, and even in patient homes.



One of the main differences in physical therapy versus personal training is the way payment is rendered for each service. Because physical therapy is part of the medical field, it is usually covered by the patient’s health insurance. Personal training, however, is not covered by insurance, and therefore must be paid in full by the client.

When you think of a physical therapist, think rehabilitation, pain relief, and in-depth knowledge of human movement. When you think of a personal trainer, think exercise, fitness, and conditioning.

So, Which Should You Choose?

The answer isn’t always black and white. It depends on your goals and current health status. If you do not have any injuries and have been cleared by a doctor to begin an exercise program, a personal trainer can help you reach your fitness goals. However, if you are currently suffering from an injury, or are in any kind of pain, seeing a physical therapist is your best bet. Keep in mind - many people could benefit from a physical therapist as well as a personal trainer, used in conjunction to help you achieve optimal health.

If you would like to talk to a physical therapist, we are here to help! Contact either of our offices to set up a FREE injury assessment with one of our therapists. We want to see you reach your health goals while avoiding injury.

#physicaltherapist #personaltrainer

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