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What Is the Difference between Kinesiology and Physical Therapy?

By Brandon May
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Kinesiology is the study of movement in the body and how it relates to the physical and psychological aspects of a living organism, whether this organism is human or animal. The difference between kinesiology and physical therapy mainly lies in the applications used in each field of study. In itself, kinesiology is purely the study of the human body and how its movements relate to human health on all levels. Physical therapy, on the other hand, is a specialization of kinesiology that uses applications to help humans and other living things promote healthy movement and improve physical strength and performance.

When a student studies general kinesiology, he or she usually learns about disease and injury prevention and treatment for the human body. The study of physical therapy also uses this information to some degree, yet relies mainly on the knowledge of using exercise and physical movement to help strengthen the body. Kinesiology and physical therapy differ in their use of applications in each practice. While kinesiology relies on basic understanding and knowledge of how the body works, physical therapists specialize in a form of kinesiology that specifically works with hands on physical movement.

Certain careers in general kinesiology often use the knowledge of bodily processes and physical health and movement for research or consultation. With physical therapy, this knowledge may be used as well, yet more work is performed with patients and it involves using exercises for the physical body to increase strength and agility. One of the main differences between kinesiology and physical therapy is that physical therapists work almost exclusively with patients, using their basic understanding of kinesiology. Physical therapists may also specialize in a certain aspect of physical therapy, whether it's geriatrics, pediatrics or pulmonary and cardiovascular physical therapy.

Students who decide to major in kinesiology or physical therapy should know that some schools use the two terms interchangeably. Even though both career choices use different techniques in assessing and improving health, some schools may often call a physical therapist student a kinesiology major. This correlation between kinesiology and physical therapy is often due to the fact that physical therapy is a subset of the study of kinesiology. Most bodywork colleges and universities offer different aspects of study in each subject.

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Discussion Comments

By Raynbow — On Sep 20, 2014

@heavanet- Thank you for the information. My mother is looking for a practitioner who uses kinesiology for issues she is having with her knee. Having as much information as possible about this therapy is important for a patient who is seeking it, because it is not commonly available.

By Heavanet — On Sep 20, 2014

As a patient who required physical therapy for an injured shoulder, I sought out a practitioner who also had knowledge of kinesiology. For me, having both forms of therapy combined for my treatment regimen helped me heal faster and gain a better range of motion in my injured shoulder than I thought was even possible. I think that my therapist's knowledge of movement of the human body that she gained from her training in kinesiology made the difference.

Anyone who is looking for this type of therapy should ask different practitioners about their background in this unique field of study. Though the patient may have to travel to a larger city to find a therapist who is trained in kinesiology, it is worth it for the healing benefits it provides.

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