Athletic Trainers Vs. Physical Therapists: Key Differences

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 18 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Professionals interested in building a career as a healthcare professional may find athletic training or physical therapy engaging because of its nature and challenges. These careers can allow professionals to collaborate closely with patients, administer treatments and track their progress. Learning about the similarities and differences between these positions can help you decide if either of these fields of work interests you. In this article, we discuss the definitions of athletic trainers vs. physical therapists, explore their job responsibilities and learn the key differences between both roles.

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Athletic Trainers Vs. Physical Therapists

It is important to understand the difference between athletic trainers vs. physical therapists as they treat different types of patients and perform different duties. Here is the main difference between the two positions:

What is an athletic trainer?

An athletic trainer is a qualified medical professional who helps athletes manage and prevent health conditions. Their major roles include helping sports professionals recover from existing injuries and training them to help prevent the most common injuries that may occur in the sports field. They usually attend sporting events to provide first aid care to athletes and assist them with preventive and safety measures. They are often present during practice sessions to ensure the players do not strain or hurt themselves. Athletic trainers collaborate closely with doctors to provide preventive and follow-up care to sports teams and individuals.

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What is a physical therapist?

Physical therapists, or physiotherapists, are medical professionals who treat patients of different ages and lifestyles. They often receive patient referrals from doctors or other healthcare professionals. While some patients visit a physical therapist for preventive care, others visit them to treat existing conditions. They may treat patients with bone, muscle, heart, lung, brain or skin problems.

Some physical therapists work in hospitals and clinics, and others may have their own practice. Physical therapists begin their work by studying a patient's medical history and performing a medical examination to understand get a complete understanding of their health fully. They are then in a position to recommend treatments based on the patient's condition.

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Job Responsibilities Of Athletic Trainers Vs. Physical Therapists

While an athletic trainer and a physical therapist are both medical professionals, there are major differences in the duties they perform. While athletic trainers work only with sports professionals, physical therapists work with a wide range of patients. Here is a list of the differences between their job responsibilities:

Job responsibilities of an athletic trainer

Here is a list of duties and responsibilities of an athletic trainer:

  • Evaluating a player's condition along with authorised doctors and medical professionals

  • Liaising with doctors, coaches and players regarding athletes' health status

  • Discussing health conditions with players' families and personal coaches

  • Setting fitness goals with players and creating plans for achieving them

  • Designing rehabilitation plans for injured athletes

  • Referring players to specialist doctors depending on their needs

  • Tracking the progress of an athlete's condition

  • Making recommendations to expedite the healing of injured athletes

  • Maintaining and tracking player records and supporting documents

  • Creating exercise and nutrition plans for players

  • Monitoring sports events and practise sessions

  • Providing first aid care in case of injuries during events or practice

  • Performing administrative tasks such as managing inventory, restocking and documentation

Job responsibilities of a physical therapist

The main duties and responsibilities of a physical therapist are as follows:

  • Analysing the physical condition of patients through physical examination

  • Reviewing patient medical history and other health conditions

  • Recommending health check-ups and interpreting test results

  • Identifying health issues and explaining the conditions to patients

  • Creating personalised recovery plans for individual patients

  • Outlining the objectives of the treatment

  • Creating recovery timelines and tracking patient progress

  • Recommending types of therapy for improving mobility and relieving pain

  • Educating patients and family members about health conditions

  • Recording patient progress and changing plans as necessary

  • Following required compliances and health requirements

  • Documenting patient records

Key Differences Between Athletic Trainers And Physical Therapists

Here are some of the key differences between athletic trainers and physical therapists:


Though athletic trainers and physical therapists are both medical professionals, the educational qualifications of each differ. Athletic trainers complete a bachelor's or master's degree in athletic training from a recognised college or university. To become a physical therapist, candidates complete a bachelor's degree in physiotherapy from a recognised institution. Passing 10+2 or higher secondary education in science with a minimum of 50% from a recognised institute is necessary for both degrees.

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Along with in-depth medical knowledge, both professions require additional skills that can help them manage patients well. Some of these skills—such as communication, active listening, compassion and time management—are common to both these jobs. Athletic trainers may require critical thinking, an interest in sports, observation, visualisation and interpersonal skills. For physical therapists, the important skills include equipment management skills, technical aptitude and the ability to guide supporting medical staff.

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Job setting

Athletic trainers work in settings where they often directly interact with players and athletes. They can work in colleges, schools or universities alongside sports teachers and in sports training centres where they can assist athletes who are preparing for larger sports events. Some trainers may work directly with professional sports teams, hospitals and sports centres.

While some physiotherapists have their own private practice, others may work in clinics or hospitals. There may be therapists who work with home health agencies that provide physiotherapy services to patients at home, and these physiotherapists often visit patients in their houses and offer basic physiotherapy services on an hourly basis. Some physiotherapists may also work with sports training agencies, universities or rehabilitation centres. There may also be physical therapists can associate with professional sports teams.

Patient type

Athletic trainers oversee athletes or professional sports players. They can sometimes also work with children or students in universities and colleges. They may provide aftercare to some players and offer preventive care to others. Physiotherapists collaborate with patients of different age groups having various ailments. They may have patients with different problems related to the musculoskeletal, neurological or cardiopulmonary system.

Nature of work

Professionals from these specialties can work independently or as part of an organisation and in team settings. They often collaborate with other medical professionals or doctors to address a patient's or player's condition. Athletic trainers may collaborate with coaches, doctors and physiotherapists while overseeing a player. Physiotherapists may work with other physiotherapists or a patient's primary doctor to get a comprehensive overview of their medical history.

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The average salary for an athletic trainer is ₹19,038 per month. The average salary of physical therapists is ₹16,593 per month. While these are the average salaries, the actual salary can vary depending on a candidate's qualifications, work experience and skills. The salaries may also vary depending on the institution they work for and the individual organisation. For example, schools and colleges often offer lower salaries than professional sports teams and hospitals.

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Job opportunities

There are plenty of job opportunities in the country for qualified and skilled athletic trainers and physical therapists. An athletic training candidate can work in schools, colleges, hospitals, sports agencies, sports clubs or with sports teams. They can also start their own freelance athletic training business and train aspiring athletes. Physiotherapists can find employment in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centres and medical service agencies. They can also start their own practice and create a loyal base of patients across age groups.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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