Difference Between Kinesiology & Physical Therapy

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Difference Between Kinesiology & Physical Therapy

An injury requiring some form of rehabilitation often provokes a sigh within us. And furthermore, not knowing whether to see a kinesiologist or physiotherapist can provoke a second sigh. Sometimes these two professions are used interchangeably, but in reality, the careers are incredibly different. 

That’s why understanding the difference between kinesiology, and physical therapy can change your approach to rehabilitation. Let’s explore the main differences. 

What is Kinesiology?

Kinesiology has a more focused field that predominantly works with athletes. You may hear some kinesiology services offering exercise physiologists which may be why the two professions get confused. The idea is to rehab the athletic injury and create a program that helps prevent future injuries that may occur during their sport. 

Kinesiotherapists commonly worked with injured patients, but it’s not uncommon for them to work with healthy athletes as well. The idea is to build a strong foundation to help athletes reach their fitness and sports goals 

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy focuses on a much more general audience. While they may see athletes, they are more geared toward treating the general public when injuries occur. 

It’s also common for them to work with individuals that have chronic injuries or disabilities that have developed from injury or are a result of a condition. 

The idea is to use different techniques to decrease pain, restore mobility, and increase the function of the injured area. This may be done through ultrasound, stretching, or strengthening techniques. 

Key Differences

While the two fields are closely related, let’s take a look at some of the most common differences to distinguish them further. 

Different Job Responsibilities 

The biggest distinction between the two career paths is that they have different job responsibilities. The overlap is where they will treat a patient and rehab an injury. However, a kinesiotherapist job extends [ast that. 


Kinesiologists typically work with athletes because they may have a range of issues or need to work on improving their sport and wellness goals. That’s why kinesiology performs the following responsibilities and duties. 

  • Assisting clients and patients in reaching their overall health and wellness goals, including weight loss. 
  • Create workout programs to not only rehab an injury but address fitness and overall health surrounding an injury. 
  • Taking measurements such as metabolism and cardiovascular performance and function. 
  • Evaluation of exercise stress tests. 

Experts at Rahav Wellness Kinesiology that several areas of treatment can vastly improve an individual’s overall well-being. 

This includes approaching food allergies and nutritional deficiencies, heavy metals toxicity, psycho-electromagnetic stressors, and much more. By providing a well-rounded approach, kinesiologists can address the body as a whole. 

Physical Therapy 

Physical therapy may use more advanced techniques to really treat a problem area. This is a more in-depth look into the skeletal and muscular systems of the body to treat affected areas. That’s why their job duties differ from kinesiology as the following. 

  • Assessing and carrying out movement tests to diagnose dysfunctional movement. 
  • Physical hands-on treatments to work on the muscles and joints. This includes massaging, scraping, and other techniques. 
  • Especially working with clients post-surgery. 

Different Educational Backgrounds and Licensing 

Since the career paths treat patients differently with how they look at the issue, it makes sense that the background requirements are different as well. 


Most kinesiologists will get a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology or exercise science. The area of study covers topics like nutrition, kinesiology, anatomy, and physical education. This covers the overall health and wellness of an athlete or individual. 

After getting a bachelor’s degree, it is common for kinesiologists to complete the required 1,000 hours in clinical trials for experience. This is done with a registered kinesiologist supervising all 1,000 hours of training. No further degree is required, but many pursue a master’s or doctorate to advance their career. 

Certifications and Licensing for Kinesiotherapy

  • ACSM certified exercise physiologists
  • ACSM registered clinical exercise physiologist
  • ASCM clinical exercise physiologist
  • NASM performance enhancement specialist
  • NASM corrective exercise specialist

Physical Therapy 

The field of study remains similar to a kinesiologist. You will likely study exercise science, kinesiology, or physiology. However, the difference is that after you complete your bachelor’s, you will go on to get your Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This degree, on average, takes three years to earn. 

During the three years of study, you will also compete for a number of required hours under a licensed professional. This is similar to kinesiology, but after completing the degree, you will need to complete a one-year residency. There are also a number of specialized certifications

Certifications and Licensing for Physical Therapists

  • Geriatric physical therapy (GCS)
  • Neurologic physical therapy (NCS)
  • Sports physical therapy (SCS)
  • Orthopedic physical therapy (OCS)
  • Women’s health physical therapy (WCS)
  • Clinical electrophysiologic physical therapy (ECS)
  • Oncologic physical therapy
  • Pediatric physical therapy (PCS)
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy (CCS)

Different Areas of Treatment

A minor difference is where the professions are carried out. It’s common for physical therapists to work in medical buildings such as hospitals or clinics. They also may have their own independent practice or work for one. 

Kinesiotherpaists may also work in different medical areas, like hospitals depending on the type of client they are working with. But they also may work in gyms when they are dealing with athletes who are improving their physical performance in sports.  

Difference Between Kinesiology & Physical Therapy in Training and Education 

The training and physical education required for a career in kinesiology and physical therapy differ significantly. 

While both professions require a strong understanding of human movement and exercise, the depth and breadth of knowledge required to pursue careers, as well as the practical training, can vary considerably.

Training and Education for Kinesiology:

  • Kinesiology programs typically lead to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
  • Bachelor’s degree programs generally take four years to complete and include courses in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, motor learning, and other related subjects.
  • Master’s degree programs can take an additional 1-2 years and may offer more specialized coursework in areas like sport psychology, athletic training, or exercise science.
  • Kinesiology programs typically require students to complete a practicum or internship to gain hands-on experience in the field.

Training and Education for Physical Therapy:

  • Physical therapy programs require a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.
  • DPT programs typically take 3 years to complete and include coursework in anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, biomechanics, and other related subjects.
  • DPT programs also require clinical rotations, where students gain hands-on experience working with patients in a variety of healthcare settings.
  • After completing a DPT program, graduates must pass a licensing exam to become a licensed physical therapist.

Overall, the training and education required for physical therapy is more extensive than that required for kinesiology. Physical therapists must complete a doctoral-level program and pass a licensing exam, while kinesiologists may only need a bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

However, both professions require a strong understanding of human movement and exercise, and both can play an important role in promoting physical activity, health and well-being.

Difference between a kinesiologist and physical therapist?

The licensing and certification requirements for kinesiology and physical therapy differ significantly, reflecting the different roles and responsibilities of these professions.

Licensing and Certification for Kinesiology:

  • Kinesiologists are not required to be licensed or certified in many jurisdictions.
  • Some states or provinces may require kinesiologists to have a license to practice, while others do not regulate the profession at all.
  • Even in areas where licensing or certification is not required, kinesiologists may choose to seek certification from professional organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

Licensing and Certification for Physical Therapy:

  • Physical therapists must be licensed to practice in all states and provinces.
  • In the United States, licensure is regulated at the state level, and requirements may vary by state. However, all states require physical therapists to have a DPT degree from an accredited program and to pass a national licensing exam.
  • In Canada, physical therapists must pass the Physiotherapy Competency Examination (PCE) to become licensed to practice.
  • Physical therapists may also choose to seek additional certification in specialized areas of practice, such as sports or orthopedic physical therapy.

The licensing and certification requirements for physical therapy are much more rigorous than those for kinesiology. This reflects the fact that physical therapists are healthcare professionals who work directly with patients to diagnose and treat conditions that affect their ability to move and function. 

In contrast, kinesiologists typically focus on prevention and general fitness, and are not typically involved in clinical care or medical treatment.

Difference Between Kinesiology & Physical Therapy

Kinesiology and physical therapy are two distinct but related fields that involve the study and application of movement and exercise to reduce pain and improve overall health and well-being. While there is some overlap between the two, there are also significant differences in their focus and scope of practice.

If you are an athlete that has shin splints that won’t seem to go away, you may lean toward a kinesiologist, but a physical therapist is not totally out of the question. 

Speaking with your PCP can help make the decision easier. Both jobs center around the function and mobility of your muscles and joints, but there are key differences that may make one profession better than the other. 

Overall, while there are some similarities between kinesiology and physical therapist, they are distinct fields with different focuses and goals. Both can play an important role in promoting physical health improving mobility and well-being, and individuals may benefit from working with professionals in both areas depending on their specific needs and goals.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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