Physical Therapist vs. Personal Trainer

Maybe you have some pain in your shoulders and knees that is limiting the activities that you enjoy. Or you might just be wondering where to start with your exercise program. Whatever your needs are, who do you need to work with—a personal trainer or a physical therapist?  

Maybe the question shouldn't be WHO should you work with, but WHEN you should see a physical therapist and personal trainer. If you have an injury or pain that limits your ability to reach your goals, you might want to start with a physical therapist.  However, for higher level goals or as the “next steps” after therapy, personal training might be in order.


Similarities between personal trainers and physical therapists:

  • Assist their clients in better movement.
  • Help clients in reaching their functional goals. 
  • Together they can work hand-in-hand for you to achieve health and wellness.  

Though there are some similarities between a physical therapist and a personal trainer, there are major distinctions.  I will break it down to the scope of practice of each professional and how you can most effectively work with each one.


Physical Therapist

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I injured, recovering from a medical procedure, or in pain when I move?
  • Do I have range of motion limitations or dizziness/balance issues that prevent me from doing the things I enjoy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then a free physical therapy consultation may be the best place to start. 

Scope of practice: 
Evaluating / Alleviating / Preventing 

  • Injury, impairment, functional limitation, disability or other health-related conditions
  • Promotion and maintenance of health, wellness, fitness, and quality of life in all age populations
  • Participating in consultation, education, and research
  • Must earn a doctorate level physical therapist degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, or CAPTE before taking the National Physical Therapy examination for their licensure


Personal Trainer

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you looking to achieve specific fitness goals? 
  • Do you need assistance in knowing an exercise routine that would be most appropriate for you? 
  • Would you simply like accountability to stay active? 
If you answered yes to any of the above, then a free consultation with a personal trainer would be a great place to start.

Scope of practice: 
Educating/ Motivating/ Accountability

  • Improving fitness and function by developing and implementing safe and effective exercise programs with individuals and small groups
  • Coaching clients through fitness-related lifestyle changes
  • Educating clients on fitness-related topics to enhance program compliance and success
  • Providing services that complement medical treatments or rehabilitation as part of an allied healthcare team
  • Referring clients to other healthcare professionals when appropriate
  • Must pass an exam through accredited organizations such as The American Council on Exercise (ACE), the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

JT Park, PT, DPT is a licensed doctor physical therapist at Mettler Center. Have questions about an injury? Ask an Expert. Call 217-398-9800 to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with a physical therapist or request an appointment online.