Athletic Training vs Physical Therapy

Athletic Training vs Physical Therapy 

Have you ever wondered the difference between an athletic trainer and a physical therapist?  While they may seem similar on the surface, the two careers are quite different from each other.  Read on to learn more about the two professions! 


What do they do? 

Athletic trainers are educated and trained to prevent and treat sports injuries as they occur.  They create individualized treatment plans for their clients in hopes of maintaining strength and conditioning while preventing injury.  If an injury does occur, they work closely with the team doctors to build the athlete back to peak health.  

Physical Therapists are responsible for preventing injury, regaining and maintaining mobility, and diagnosing and treating injury.  Though they can and do treat athletes, they also have a more diverse patient population than that of athletic trainers.  Physical therapists treat children, geriatrics, women’s health, athletes, oncology, cardio, etc.  They are responsible for preventing and treating injuries through specialized exercises across all populations.   

There are a couple of major defining abilities that separate physical therapists from athletic trainers.  There are certain things that physical therapists are educated on and trained to do (depending on local and state laws).  For instance, most states allow physical therapists to do manipulations, dry needling, and make a physical therapy diagnosis regarding a patient’s condition.  Those actions do not fall under an athletic trainer’s scope of practice.  


What is the educational requirement?

Both athletic trainers and physical therapists require a graduate level education.  That means that both professions will have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree.  From there, an athletic trainer must go on to pursue a masters degree while a physical therapist goes on for a doctorate.  The time frame for further education ranges depending on the university but most masters programs are 24 months while the doctorate is closer to 36 months.  

Have more questions? 

If you have more questions about the difference between PT and AT, be sure to stop into ARCH Physical Therapy and ask Larry all about it! He received his undergraduate degree in athletic training and went on to practice physical therapy so he has the inside scoop on both professions.