Ask a PT….Where you can get advice on pain, injury, or fitness from a physcial therapist.

This will be a weekly feature on Fridays in our blog, where we answer questions we get from our clients or posters on this site or our Facebook page.  So if you have a question about some sort of injury or problem you are having whether pain or fitness related drop us a line in the comments or Facebook message, or you can email us at

This week’s question is a commonly asked question to many Physical Therapists. “What is the difference between a personal trainer and a PT?”

The confusion lies within the similarities of the two professions. Both a PT and a personal trainer are invested in helping people live healthier, active lifestyles and often use a combination of strengthening and aerobic conditioning to achieve this.


Beyond this, the differences are in the academic training and education involved, the scope of practice, and utilization of other tools that include various forms of soft tissue work and manual therapy.

In order to become a physical therapist, it is required that an individual obtain a bachelor’s degree first and then complete a 2.5-3 year masters- or doctorate-level graduate program (the majority of current physical therapy programs have transitioned to the doctorate level).  For approximately 1 year, physical therapy students are required to treat patients under direct supervision of an experienced PT. And finally, in order to become a PT you must pass a licensing exam that is regulated at the national level.

Personal trainers have much more variability, since there is no national standard. Overall, the requirements are a high school degree or GED equivalent and in some cases, a CPR/AED certification.  No bachelor’s degree is necessary, although many personal trainers do have one. Personal trainers often obtain certifications from an organization that may or may not be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Organizations that are accredited by the NCCA are most widely respected and generally personal trainers that work out of established fitness centers have certifications from NCCA-accredited programs. Some of these include the ACSM, NSCA, and AFAA to name some of the more well-known programs. In theory, any person can call themselves a “personal trainer” since there is no national standard. This makes it important for the consumer who is considering hiring a personal trainer to be aware of this and to make sure that the trainer they hire is certified from an accredited program.


Another difference between a PT and a personal trainer is that a PT sees patients for a wider variety of conditions and potentially with greater medical needs as well as those who are just in need of strength and conditioning, whereas a personal trainer most often works with just the latter. Personal trainers focus on training specific muscles groups and improving overall fitness in individuals who want to get in shape, are overweight, or want to improve their strength. PT’s focus on these things as well, but also use a number of manual techniques (for example, soft tissue and joint mobilizations/manipulations) and other tools (dry needling, laser therapy) to help patients improve their mobility, stability, reduce pain, and restore function.


One other important distinction is the ability to diagnose and treat an injury.  PT’s are proficient in diagnostic tests that can help rule in or out ligamentous, muscular, discogenic (related to the discs in the back), bone, and tendon injuries, and also help to determine if other medical attention is necessary.  If a personal trainer is working with a client who is experiencing persistent or sharp pain, they should refer the client to a PT, physician, or other medical provider.

Whether you should see a personal trainer or a PT depends on your circumstance and your goals. If you have no pain, you attend a gym regularly or would like to do so, and just need some motivation along with some guidance as to which exercises are most beneficial, a certified personal trainer from a NCCA-accredited program could be a good fit for you. If you want to become more active but have concerns of becoming injured or re-aggravating old injuries, or are already active but experiencing any pain, or would just like to improve your mobility, flexibility, strength, and coordination, seeing a PT could be your best option.

Depending on your insurance plan and provider, PT visits may be covered for you under your insurance plan. If not, there are many clinics that will offer discounted rates for cash-pay.  Also, having more than 30 minutes with your PT is important to establish a good plan of care and spend the time necessary to get you painfree and/or moving better. Ascent Physical Therapy accepts insurance, offers the discounted cash pay rates, and schedules 45 minutes for each patient to spend with their PT. Please give us a call if you would like to try PT at our Avon clinic (970)949-9966 or at our Eagle clinic (970)328-5230.

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