Physical Therapist vs. Corrective Exercise Specialist (Which One Do I Need?)

Believe it or not, muscular dysfunction exists within each of our individual bodies. Some were born with it, some have developed it through poor, habitual lifestyles, and some have acquired it through injury.

When muscular dysfunction exists, what do we do about it? How is it diagnosed? And most importantly, who can we visit to ensure we are getting the appropriate treatment to cure these conditions? 

Typically, there are two main types of specialists that exist in the area of musculoskeletal dysfunction, physical therapists and corrective exercise specialists (CES).

These professions share many of the same qualities, but the differences that separate them are critical to appropriately overcoming or alleviating your physical dysfunctions.

Differences and Similarities

Physical TherapistDoctorate/ NPTE CertPhysiotherapeutic Analysis and TherapyFull Scope of Physiotherapy
Corrective Exercise SpecialistPersonal Trainers Cert/CES CertCorrective Analysis and Compensating ExerciseMusculoskeletal Dysfunctions

Though these professions share many of the same qualities and functions, the differences between these two occupations far outweigh the similarities.

It is difficult, at times, for people outside of the fitness industry to differentiate between a PT and CES. Both professions are designed to improve overall movement and alleviate pain caused by decreased mobility.

Purpose of a Physical Therapists

Traumatic events such as sports injuries, heart attacks, or strokes are situations that your doctor would typically refer you to a physical therapist.

With the extensive amount of education required to become a PT, they are considered licensed healthcare professionals. They are allowed to treat medical diagnoses and injuries at the referral of a doctor.

According to, physical therapists require a bachelor’s degree in a related field, a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, as well as a certification after passing the National Physical Therapy Examination.

Purpose of Corrective Exercise Specialists

Corrective exercise specialists are the bridge between physical therapists and personal trainers, a gap that has existed for decades.

CES is typically a personal trainer that has decided to further their fitness education by taking the exam to become a certified corrective exercise specialist.

Musculoskeletal dysfunctions that limit movement and mobility are conditions that do not need a medical diagnosis and can be assessed by a corrective exercise specialist. 

Without the equivalent education of a physical therapist, CES strictly assesses a client’s skeletomuscular limitations through a series of physical movement tests, then develops a regimen that counterbalances those limitations.

How They Help in Fitness

We have learned that physical therapists and corrective exercise specialists are both professions that exist to help people become more efficient when working out, thus, improving overall efficient movement patterns in everyday movement outside of the gym.

Physical Therapy in Fitness

It is obvious that physical therapy is the optimal way to recover from injury, but what do you do when you have fully recovered?

Many physical therapists will recommend a continuing regimen (either with the physical therapist or individually) even well after the injury or dysfunction has been alleviated, which helps the client to continue recovery even beyond their physical status prior to the injury.

Dr. Luke Pederson at Monarch Physical Therapy has a wonderful piece about gym-based physical therapy and its rise in popularity. A physical therapist bridges the gap between rehab and a CES, but this new trend is getting physical therapy clients into the gym and out of clinics. 

When the client/patient is ready to move into the gym and out of the clinic setting, even small movements such as medicine ball tosses, resistance band work, and simply walking on a treadmill are all personal physical benefits for each patient as they progress in their therapy.

Corrective Exercise Specialists in Fitness

Unlike physical therapists, corrective exercise specialists make their living solely in the gym. When a client comes in, they are typically needing help to solve their musculoskeletal issues, unless it is a situation where they are already a personal training client and the trainer notices these issues and refers them to a CES.

As a CES, you always want to begin your client’s corrective regimen with the end in mind. The CES will typically go over the issues with the client and figure out the desired outcome. When working out the CES will focus on under or overactive muscle groups and diagnose appropriate stretches or resistance work. 

When these issues have been pinpointed and the appropriate exercises have been assigned, these workouts will help the client move closer toward muscular adaptation to overcome their muscular dysfunctions.

The CES will typically have a little more freedom than PT’s in designing their workouts as the clients are not dealing with overcoming a serious or debilitating injury.

Whether working out beyond physical therapy or hitting the gym after multiple sessions with a corrective exercise specialist, the overall muscular adaptation that you experience with either professional will make you more efficient and productive in the gym, giving you a better quality of life outside of the gym.

Who Are They For?

As we mentioned, every person has some kind of physical musculoskeletal dysfunction. Some people have it worse than others, some have it due to injury, heart attacks, even strokes, and some have it due to sedentary lifestyles or genetics.

The question that needs to be answered is, “What category do I fall under?” If you are a regular at the gym, what kind of therapy do you need? A physical therapist or a corrective exercise specialist?

Who Needs a Physical Therapist?

It seems that in our society physical therapists have a reputation of only correcting physical ailments that involve the external parts of the body. The work of a physical therapist goes much deeper than that, literally.

We have covered, in detail, the obvious injuries and muscular dysfunctions for gym-goers that would require a physical therapist, but let’s look into the other types of likely gym clientele that would require a physical therapist.

If you have suffered from any kind of cardiovascular disease such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) or even a recent heart attack, finding a qualified physical therapist will be in your best interest over a corrective exercise specialist or even a personal trainer.

The intense education required to become a physical therapist allows them to design an appropriate workout regimen for someone with cardiovascular disease.

If you are planning to become a gym rat in the near future and you have suffered from skin burns or wounds, it is recommended to find a qualified physical therapist to design a workout routine for you and walk you through the activities.

As the burns or wounds tighten the skin, muscular dysfunction can be created. A physical therapist will be able to show you how to correctly adapt the muscles around the wound.

Even people with permanent mental and physical handicaps can gain massive amounts of muscular efficiency at the gym by visiting a physical therapist.

Things as simple as squeezing a ball, tugging on resistance bands, or even walking slowly on a treadmill can improve overall function and quality of life for anyone with debilitating handicaps.

Who Needs a Corrective Exercise Specialist?

Anyone that is a member of a gym and wants to improve any basic muscular inefficiencies should consider signing up with a corrective exercise specialist.

You can find a CES in essentially any gym that you attend, however, if you are joining a new gym, it doesn’t hurt to double check to be sure they have a CES on their training staff.

Some of the issues with movement that the corrective exercise specialist will evaluate is muscle tightness. Throughout their certification, CES’s learned how to watch your movement through a number of tests that allow them to evaluate muscular deficiencies.

Tight muscles will restrict movement and cause you to overcompensate using opposing muscles. Foam rolling, band stretches, and static stretching are all methods a CES will use prior to your workout at the gym.

If you are having muscular balance issues as a gym regular, a CES will be able to step in and give you a regimen that can compensate for weak muscles. Just as tight muscles restrict movement, weak muscles will also adversely affect movement and cause dysfunction in your workout routine.