The topic of kinesiology comes up every so often in our practice, and it’s common for patients to wonder which type of therapy would be best for them: kinesiology or physical therapy.
A kinesiologist is a professional who studies human movement and applies this knowledge to enhance physical performance. A physical therapist is a healthcare professional specializing in rehabilitation, using therapeutic interventions to address injuries, improve mobility, and alleviate pain.
While both kinesiologists and physical therapists work with patients on human movement, a kinesiologist typically focuses on performance optimization, while a physical therapist is more concerned with clinical rehabilitation.
Where the confusion often comes from is the fact that many physical therapists have a background in kinesiology, since many of us sought out kinesiology for an undergraduate degree. In this article, we’ll shed some light on the key differences, discuss the pros and cons of each, and aim to help you make the most informed decision for your own healthcare.
- Kinesiology focuses on the scientific study of human movement and exercise programs for performance and health, while physical therapy facilitates recovery, function and pain reduction via a variety of treatments including manual therapy and modalities.
- Kinesiologists develop personalized exercise programs and treat using active physical rehabilitation, whereas physical therapists assess, treat via manual therapy, and create rehabilitation plans to help avoid surgery and minimize medication reliance.
- Both professions work across various settings and treat common health conditions like musculoskeletal disorders and pain, sharing similar educational backgrounds and treatment modalities, and can collaborate for holistic care.
Quick guidelines for choosing physical therapy vs kinesiology
- If you aim to improve overall fitness, lead a healthier lifestyle and undergo long-term rehabilitation for pain reduction and enhanced fitness levels, then seeing a kinesiologist may be the ideal option.
- If you are dealing with an injury or chronic disease requiring specialized treatment methods, then seeking help from a physical therapist would be more suitable.
Understanding kinesiology and physical therapy
Both kinesiology and physical therapy have expanded beyond their traditional settings within hospitals over time, becoming integral parts of modern healthcare systems. In many ways, our roles can overlap.
Modern health professionals in both of these fields play important roles in rehabilitating patients from a range of ailments including injuries, surgeries, and diseases.
They also aid in reducing or eliminating the need for certain surgical procedures. However, such professions share a common goal – improving human movement – but differ in their approaches to achieving this objective.
What is kinesiology?
Kinesiology is a scientific field that focuses on studying human movement and its biological components. It encompasses various research areas related to the body’s physical activity, performance, and overall function.
This multidisciplinary discipline utilizes knowledge from several other fields such as anatomy, exercise physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and nutrition.
Kinesiologists focus on specific aspects like biomechanics which uses mechanical principles to analyze movement patterns of the body or develop customized active programs aimed at helping clients overcome injuries/chronic pain issues along with improving their fitness levels over time through functional movement exercises tailored according to individual needs.
What is physical therapy?
Physical therapy is a profession dedicated to helping individuals regain movement and function following injuries, illnesses, surgeries, or chronic conditions. There are many benefits of choosing physical therapy:
A physical therapist’s approach integrates various aspects of movement science through both active and passive methods to promote healing and recovery.
During physical therapy sessions, we utilize different forms of treatment such as manual techniques and exercises to address musculoskeletal problems.
We focus not only on improving flexibility and restoring mobility but also play a key role in assessing issues, managing pain caused by injury or disease, and creating customized rehabilitation plans based on each patient’s specific goals. Physical therapists work across multiple settings including hospitals.
Roles and responsibilities of kinesiologists and physical therapists
While kinesiologists and physical therapists share the goal of enhancing physical capabilities and quality of life, they have distinct roles with significant differences.
The role of the kinesiologist
Kinesiologists create customized exercise plans based on the client’s health and fitness objectives, provide training for fitness improvement, as well as instruction in sport-specific skills.
They prioritize movement-based therapies and active rehabilitation strategies to aid individuals in achieving overall fitness goals while helping them return to their preferred activities.
The role of the physical therapist
Physical therapists lead specialized group programs that typically involve 30-45 minute sessions for initial assessments.
Their expertise includes conducting more complex bodily procedures such as evaluating and assessing musculoskeletal issues, using ultrasound therapy, tailored exercise programs, heat/cold application, passive manual techniques (e.g., dry needling), joint manipulation, or TENS machines.
Additionally, therapists focus on educating both patients and family members so as to avoid further complications down the road.
When to choose a kinesiologist
Kinesiologists specialize in studying the body’s movement to improve overall performance and function. Their expertise lies in effectively treating sports injuries, as well as enhancing physical capabilities.
Through individualized exercise programs that target functional movement, they assist clients in recovering from injuries, managing chronic pain, and reaching peak performance.
Kinesiologists most commonly focus on:
- Performance enhancement in athletes
- Exercise prescription for fitness and wellness
- Biomechanical analysis to prevent injuries
- Rehabilitation exercises for musculoskeletal conditions
- Functional movement assessments
- Postural correction strategies
- Physical conditioning for individuals with chronic diseases
- Ergonomics and workplace injury prevention
- Health and wellness education
- Strength and conditioning programs
In certain situations, such as post-accident recovery, kinesiologists concentrate on identifying muscle imbalances and promoting proper movements by providing active rehabilitation methods for quick improvement of physical abilities.
When to choose a physical therapist
In physical therapy school and continuing education, we undergo specialized training to perform tasks such as mobilizing joints and soft tissues, restoring function, flexibility, and mobility, reducing pain from injuries or diseases, and developing tailored rehabilitation plans based on patient goals.
This often leads to reduced dependence on surgery and prescription drugs for a pain-free life. Choose a physical therapist if you need help with:
- Musculoskeletal injuries (sprains, strains, fractures)
- Post-surgical rehabilitation
- Neurological conditions (stroke, Parkinson’s disease)
- Orthopedic rehabilitation (joint replacements, ligament repairs)
- Back and neck pain
- Arthritis management
- Sports injuries
- Balance and gait disorders
- Pediatric developmental delays
- Chronic pain conditions (fibromyalgia, chronic low back pain)
Key differences between kinesiology and physical therapy
Despite their mutual focus on human movement and body function, there are distinct differences between the professions of kinesiologists and physical therapists.
One significant difference lies in their educational requirements and regulation. Kinesiologistst generally require a bachelor’s degree followed by a credentialing process, whereas physical therapists undergo more in-depth schooling in a dedicated physical therapy program after they’ve completed their bachelor’s level work.
Another notable distinction between these professions is seen in the methods used during treatments as well as session lengths:
Kinesiologists primarily utilize exercise-based therapies with sessions lasting about an hour to allow for individualized care. On the other hand, physical therapists specialize not just in manual therapy but also employ various modalities such as electrical stimulation or ultrasound treatment following an initial assessment that typically takes 45 minutes. Actual treatment sessions usually last around 30 minutes afterwards.
Kinesiology vs physical therapy: Choosing the right professional for your needs
When it comes to choosing the right professional, consider your specific condition and goals. To ensure that their services align with your needs, we recommend that you consult with a primary healthcare provider that you trust. They’ll be able to provide you with in-depth insight while taking into consideration your health, injury history, and stated goals.