Kinesiologist vs. Athletic Therapist: What’s the Difference?

Kinesiology and Athletic Therapy are two closely related professions, but there is a big difference between the two. Kinesiologists study how the body moves and how muscles work together while athletic therapists treat injuries that occur as a result of physical activity. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in either field, or you’re seeking treatment, it’s important to understand the differences between them. In this blog post, we will explore the roles of both kinesiologists and athletic therapists and highlight some of their key responsibilities. 

We will also discuss what these health professions are, education and certification requirements for each profession and outline the pros and cons of each from a clients’ perspective. So, if you are wondering “what is the difference between kinesiology and athletic therapy?” keep reading to find out!

This is the second blog in the series, so you can learn more about what a kinesiologist does by reading our blogs about the difference between kinesiologist and physiotherapist, personal trainer and sports medicine for more context.

What is kinesiology and athletic therapy?

These two health professions both offer therapy to clients seeking better performance and recovery from sports injuries, so are they the same thing? Yes and no. Here’s an analogy: musicians and drummers are not the same thing. You could say that all drummers are musicians, however the reverse is not true. 

Athletic therapy is a specialization within kinesiology so there is a high likelihood that your athletic therapist has studied kinesiology and may even be a practicing kinesiologist. And like the fact that not all musicians are drummers, kinesiologists are not all athletic therapists.

Kinesiology Is The Study Of Human Movement

The study of human movement is an amalgamation of anatomy, physiology (human function), neurology (nervous system and brain), biomechanics, psychology (our thoughts), and biochemistry. Although each of these disciplines is profound, kinesiology ties them together in a single scientific discipline.

To learn more about kinesiology and why clients choose it as therapy, make sure to read our ultimate guide to kinesiology.

Athletic therapist treating an injury on the field

Athletic therapy is the treatment of injuries related to sport and exercise

Athletic therapy is both a subdiscipline of kinesiology as well as a stand-alone clinical profession. Kinesiology is a science-based field including both research and clinical therapy, athletic therapy is clinic-based.

Compared to a kinesiologist who is versed in all human movement including healthy lifestyle, rehab, training and conditioning, exercise with chronic illness for all ages; an athletic therapist focuses on assessment and rehabilitation for the muscles, bones, joints. Injuries and rehab resulting from sports or any physical activity are in the wheelhouse of athletic therapy.

Are kinesiologists also athletic therapists?

Yes, with the proper training and experience. Athletic therapy is within the scope of kinesiologists and they are allowed to practice this type of therapy with or without membership in the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (as long as they are registered kinesiologists).

What education and certification do kinesiologists and athletic therapists need

Both professions require a university degree and certification. The Canadian Athletic Therapists Association requires any university degree, and that allows the member to practice as an athletic therapist.

Becoming a kinesiologist through a kinesiology association (or College in the case of Ontario) on the other hand requires a kinesiology degree, allowing the member to practice as a kinesiologist and/or athletic therapist.

Are athletic therapists or kinesiologists regulated health professions?

For the most part no, neither is regulated with one exception, the College of Kinesiologists of Ontario. Outside of Ontario, kinesiologists and athletic therapists rely on their local member associations for their scope of practice and ethical guidelines, as well as to handle complaints from the public.

Can athletic therapists or kinesiologists Diagnose?

No, neither profession can diagnose, but provide assessments and treatment plans instead. Diagnosis is the responsibility of doctors of medicine, chiropractors and physiotherapists.

kinesiologist in a session with a band

Which is better?

I want to make it clear that clear that Athletic therapists are more specialized than kinesiologists. If you’re seeking an athletic therapist, there is a good chance they will have also studied kinesiology. But in any case, they are well suited to work with athletes on injury assessment and rehab. If you have experienced an injury related to sport or exercise, an athletic therapist might be right for you.

Whether you’re seeking rehab or conditioning in a sports setting, if you’re dealing with a health condition such as chronic pain, or you’re in need of an ergonomic assessment, a kinesiologist will be able to help. Kinesiology has a broader scope than athletic therapy, so a kinesiologist would be better suited for you if you have a health condition, postural issues, general health goal like getting stronger or any type of injury.

Conclusion

Kinesiologists work to improve all human movement and function through training or rehab, while athletic therapists specialize in the treatment of injuries related to sport and exercise. Both professions require a university degree as well as certification from a professional organization. While there is some overlap between the two fields, you can generally think of athletic therapists as specialized kinesiologists.

Compared to medical professions like sports medicine and physiotherapy, athletic therapists are most closely related to kinesiologists. Hopefully that clears up any confusion you had about these two professions. Please make sure to check out “Kinesiologist vs. Physiotherapist: Top 5 Questions Answered”

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