PTs and Athletic Trainers in Orthopedics: Differences and Similarities

Physical therapists and athletic trainers both work in the field of sports medicine and treat people who sustained injuries from sports—but that’s where the similarities between the two end. Physical therapists and athletic trainers require different certifications and educational attainment, and have workplace settings that are worlds apart.


Physical Therapists vs. Athletic Trainers

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who help patients to restore, develop and maintain movement, and physical functions. They work with people of all ages, occupations and fitness levels who have acute or chronic injuries and illnesses. Athletic trainers, on the other hand, help athletes and other physically active individuals to rehabilitate and manage their injuries. They are also trained to recognize and prevent injuries that may be caused by physical activity.


Physical therapists need to have a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree from an accredited physical therapy course. Physical therapists are required to finish classes in kinesiology, anatomy, neuroscience, pharmacology, diagnostics, biology, chemistry, health, and human growth and development. Athletic trainers must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program and pass a certification test. Athletic trainer course requirements include anatomy, first aid, physiology, biomechanics, and nutrition.

Working Environment

Physical therapists work in a clinical setting. They can be found working in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and physical therapy centers. Athletic trainers can be seen in sports medicine clinics, and high school, college and university athletic departments. Athletic trainers with advanced degrees may even end up working with sports teams.

Work Hours

Physical therapists usually work regular hours. They work with patients individually over a period that can range from weeks to months. They help patients develop and perform exercises to improve muscle strength, range of motion, endurance, coordination, and motor skills. Heat therapy, water therapy, electrical simulation, and ultrasound are the tools that physical therapists use in the rehabilitation of their patients.

Athletic trainers have more flexible working hours, but they are often required long hours and may even work during weekends. They tape, bandage, and brace athletes for injury rehabilitation and prevention. Typically, athletic trainers are the first ones on the scene of a sports injury and may then proceed to consult with a physician to diagnose and treat the athlete.

Despite their differences, physical therapists and athletic trainers often work hand in hand to ensure that a patient returns to his or her favorite sport safely and at peak performance. You can view this harmonious and mutually beneficial relationship at work when you visit established orthopedics centers like Steadman Hawkins Clinic Denver.


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