Kinesiology vs. Physical Therapy: Uses, Benefits, & More

Kinesiology and physical therapy are both fields of science related to the body and movement. Kinesiologists and physical therapy providers (physical therapists and physical therapist assistants) are both professionals in health-related fields that can work with clients in a variety of settings.

This article explains the fields of kinesiology and physical therapy including the similarities and differences between these areas of study, as well as the services offered by these healthcare providers.

Nurse helping senior woman with physical therapy in her home - stock photo

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What to Know About Kinesiology

Kinesiology is the study of body movement and physical activity, and how it affects the quality of life, health, and society as a whole.

A degree in kinesiology often includes coursework in:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Motor control and development
  • Sport and exercise psychology
  • Biomechanics
  • Nutrition

Individuals with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology often have careers in sports and fitness. Examples include:

  • Exercise physiologist
  • Personal trainer
  • Sports & conditioning coach
  • Athletic coach
  • Health and fitness consultant
  • Health club manager

People with kinesiology degrees often go on to graduate school for advanced degrees in the field of kinesiology or to pursue careers in other healthcare fields, such as:

People with a degree in kinesiology who want to work with clients or patients might choose to take an exam to become a registered kinesiotherapist through the Council on Professional Standards for Kinesiotherapy (COPSKT).

Kinesiologists Who Specialize

Registered kinesiologists can also specialize in a variety of areas, such as:

  • Cancer rehabilitation
  • Driver rehabilitation
  • Ergonomic evaluation
  • Adaptive sports
  • Amputee
  • Fall prevention
  • Functional capacity evaluation
  • Assistive technology professional
  • Health coach
  • Aquatics
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Orthopedics
  • Tai Chi
  • Weight management
  • Seating and mobility
  • Research
  • Cardiac rehabilitation

What to Know About Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is the study of human movement as it applies to overall health, rehabilitation of injury, fitness, and prevention of injury.

There are two tracks of study for people interested in working in the field of physical therapy—the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which qualifies a person to take an exam to become a physical therapist, and the Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) degree, which qualifies a person to take an exam to become a physical therapist assistant.

A physical therapist with a DPT degree has received specialized training in:

  • Biology
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary health
  • Endocrine and metabolic health
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Ethics and values training
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Clinical reasoning

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision and direction of a physical therapist and receive training in:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Clinical pathology
  • Neuroscience
  • Kinesiology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Ethics and values training

Which Treatment is Best for You?

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether you should see a kinesiologist or physical therapy provider for treatment.

When to See a Kinesiologist

If you're looking to improve your fitness and live a healthier lifestyle, consider seeing a kinesiologist. A kinesiologist can also provide rehabilitation if you have a long-standing injury and want to help reduce your pain and improve your fitness. Kinesiology sessions focus on improving your mobility, agility, flexibility, and strength, with exercise interventions to improve overall function.

When to See a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists are trained to evaluate injuries and work with patients with a variety of medical conditions to develop comprehensive treatment plans to address functional limitations. While exercise is a large component of physical therapy intervention, these professionals also use many other modalities during treatment.

Examples include:

Can Kinesiology and Physical Therapy Be Used Together?

In some settings, a person might receive services that can be provided by either a kinesiologist or a physical therapist, including:

  • Outpatient clinics
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Community living centers
  • In-home therapy
  • Telehealth services
  • Specialty centers


Kinesiology and physical therapy are two health fields centered around human movement. Kinesiologists often work with people who are looking to improve their fitness and overall health. They also help rehabilitate people with chronic injuries that cause pain and affect function. Kinesiologists focus on improving flexibility, agility, mobility, and strength, through exercise interventions.

Physical therapists evaluate injuries and rehabilitate people with a wide variety of medical conditions. These professionals use many different types of treatment (including exercise) to help restore function.

Physical therapy services are typically covered by insurance, while a person might have to pay out-of-pocket for kinesiology services.

A Word From Verywell

Kinesiologists and physical therapists can help you improve function and quality of life after injury or if you are living with chronic illness. If you aren't sure which one you should see, talk to your primary healthcare provider. Or, schedule an initial assessment and let the professionals decide if their services are appropriate for your condition and goals. If they aren't, they will help you find the treatment you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a kinesiologist do?

    A kinesiologist works with patients who want to improve their fitness level. They are also able to provide rehabilitation for long-standing injuries to help reduce pain and improve fitness.

  • Should I go to physical therapy?

    Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy after an injury or surgery. To figure out if physical therapy could be beneficial, talk with your healthcare provider or physical therapist.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Kinesiology Association. About AKA.

  2. Corban University. Is a kinesiology degree right for you?

  3. American Kinesiotherapy Association. How to become a registered kinesiotherapist.

  4. American Kinesiotherapy Association. Available specializations.

  5. Washington University in St. Louis. Physical therapy.

  6. American Physical Therapy Association. Becoming a PT.

  7. American Physical Therapy Association. Becoming a PTA.

  8. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Kinesiotherapy.

By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.