Ask Mike Reinold Show

What’s the Difference Between Athletic Training and Physical Therapy?

On this episode of the #AskMikeReinold show we talk about the differences between an athletic trainer and a physical therapist. Sure there are some overlaps, but I also think they are their own unique professions. To view more episodes, subscribe, and ask your questions, go to

#AskMikeReinold Episode 198: What’s the Difference Between Athletic Training and Physical Therapy?

Listen and Subscribe to Podcast

You can use the player below to listen to the podcast or subscribe. If you are enjoying the podcast, PLEASE click here to leave us a review in iTunes, it will really mean a lot to us. THANKS!

Show Notes


Mike Reinold: Welcome back everybody to the latest episode of The Ask Mike Reinold Show.

Nick: We’ve got Jack from Massachusetts asking: “What are the differences between athletic training and physical therapy?”

Mike Reinold: All right, good. That’s actually a good question. I think this is a good timely question. Am I the only ATC here? Any of you guys ATC’s?

Dave Tilley: Oh. Rub it in.

Mike Reinold: Nothing? Rubbing it in? This is a good question because I think we’re starting to see students ask a lot of questions about what they should do in their career and stuff like that. Your question is what’s “the difference between an athletic trainer and a physical therapist?” I mean, there’s definitely a ton of overlap. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why there’s a little bit of confusion. I am both. I’ve worked as both, which I think is a little bit different. I think a lot of physical therapists think that they can just get an ATC certification and then think that they understand athletic training. But until-

Lenny Macrina: Or an SCS certification.

Mike Reinold: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: But they think that they can do certain things. It’s definitely an interesting kind of change. I guess I’ll start a little bit with what I would say the difference is between the two. Then maybe we can talk a little bit. How many people are SCS’s here? Anybody else have any other S’s? Are you? May have expired?

Lenny Macrina: It expired.

Mike Reinold: Yeah. Exactly. Definitely not renewing that. Definitely. What is it? $1000?

Lenny Macrina: I think it’s close to, if not more than that.

Dave Tilley: And a portfolio.

Mike Reinold: And a test.

Dave Tilley: And a test.

Lenny Macrina: You need 200 hours coverage of on-field coverage.

Mike Reinold: All right. We’ll come back to that.

Lenny Macrina: Whatever. Yeah.

Mike Reinold: We’ll come back to it.

Dave Tilley: Lenny and I will brood on that while you guys talk.

Mike Reinold: Let’s start off a little bit of like what’s the same between athletic training and physical therapy. I think both professions are really good at sport injuries. Or they could be good at sport injuries I should say. It doesn’t mean you have to be. But Understanding the mechanics of a sport injury, how to rehab somebody, how to deal with that a little bit better.

Mike Reinold: I think the biggest difference between the two is more so in the diagnostic focus. Not skills, not knowledge or anything like that. I think we’re going to see these two kind of blend and merge more and more. But I think obviously athletic trainers are really focused on that acute triage. Is it a life threatening injury? Is it a big traumatic thing that we’re worried about? Sinister type response or something? Now we have to be really careful with that. That is that acute traumatic thing. I would say physical therapists are completely unequipped to do that.

Mike Reinold: That initial triage and then what to do. What I think physical therapists are better at is probably merging the medical diagnosis with a functional diagnosis, which is a little bit different than just their acute injury. Not just looking at range of motion stuff. But also trying to rule out some of the medical things.

Mike Reinold: Now you see the difference in that. I think that’s where the education has gone a little bit. The APTA is trying to get DPT’s to be autonomous, and to be able to see people with direct access and stuff like that. We’re trying to be almost like mini doctors in a way where we can rule out some medical red flags and stuff like that. I think that’s the difference between them.

Mike Reinold: The Athletic trainers, I think, can do a great job rehabbing people and doing injuries. But what they’ve done is the way I guess they kind of structured it is to be very underneath the direction of a physician. I think that’s the difference between the two professions right now. That’s how I would probably define them the most.

Mike Reinold: Based on that, I still think they’re different. I think we have to consider them different. But two questions I want to ask. One is now obviously the PT’s in the room with the SCS, a lot of people are thinking in SCS can train you to be an athletic trainer. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case that you can just take the test and become that. We’ve talked about this on the podcast before so go back and search. Let’s touch on that briefly. But anybody-

Dave Tilley: Lenny rant.

Mike Reinold: Anybody think that’s a good idea with the SCS?

Lenny Macrina: Tis the season. I get called out on Facebook a lot because I think it’s kind of known now that I took my SCS in 2008 and did not renew it in 2018.

Mike Reinold: Who’s calling you out?

Lenny Macrina: In good ways. People know that I have voiced my opinion on the SCS test, or the re-certification process. For the record, I think the test is well done. I think it’s a great test. I think it’s a great learning opportunity that the APTA provides to become a sports certified PT. With that, the certification process for me just didn’t work because you needed a portfolio re-certification, or you took the test again. To do the portfolio, you need to pay a lot of money… I think it was at least $1000… And you needed to have on field coverage because that was the goal of the SCS was to be a PT who could be at an athletic event, like an athletic trainer, and cover the event. You had to take-

Mike Reinold: Let’s focus on that a little bit. Let’s focus on that. Not so much on the re-certification. But the actual coverage of an event.

Lenny Macrina: Right.

Mike Reinold: You’re an SCS?

Lenny Macrina: Yes.

Mike Reinold: I’m an SCS. You guys plan on taking it?

Student: Eventually.

Mike Reinold: I can’t wait to ask why. But I like it. That’s good because I’m still confused. Okay. Len, you’re out on the sideline of a football game.

Lenny Macrina: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: Guy goes down with a head injury. What do you do?

Lenny Macrina: I’m looking for the athletic trainer.

Mike Reinold: Immediately calling the ambulance.

Lenny Macrina: Honestly, I’m calling it an ambulance because, I mean, we took the emergency response course to get… That was one of the requirements, which I thought was tremendous. I learned a lot. Danny Smith taught it. I took that 10 years ago and I haven’t used it since. I know I’m supposed to have 200 hours of on-field coverage to re-certify. But there’s no way taking that test.

Mike Reinold: All right. You took that test yesterday.

Lenny Macrina: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: Kid gets a head injury in a football game. What do you do?

Lenny Macrina: No. Because I have no-

Mike Reinold: Do you know how to stabilize? Have you ever stabilized a head?

Lenny Macrina: If I took the test yesterday, yes. But that was somebody who was healthy, and we created the scenario.

Mike Reinold: Right.

Lenny Macrina: Not working under an athletic trainer who was doing it, and I was assisting, or I was observing, or something. I did not feel ready, or prepared, or even close to prepared to go on field and do anything. I got zero hours of my 200. I believe it was 200. I didn’t re-certify. I just didn’t think me… I feel like when I took the test in 2008 these were not the guidelines to re-certify 10 years later.

Dave Tilley: I did it in 15. That got started the year after I did.

Lenny Macrina: Okay.

Mike Reinold: All right. Let me ask you a question. Somebody fractures their femur right on the field. What do you do?

Mike Reinold: We’re not prepared to do that. We shouldn’t do that. Then here’s the problem I’m starting to see right now. We’ll talk to you three in private. You’re not in trouble yet. But there’s a lot of PT students, and there’s a lot of young PT’s, that actually think that they can be athletic trainers because they have the SCS. Because they took a test. That’s silly, right? That’s a big problem we’re having that there’s these physical therapists that do think they’re better than athletic trainers, and think that way.

Mike Reinold: Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s probably some in the other direction, too. I’m not saying it’s one. But we definitely have this new wave in the APTA, and it depends on who your professors are, your school, and those types of things. But they’re kind of instilling in you that you should have the right to cover these fields.

Mike Reinold: I think there’s a huge difference in athletic training. Yes. You learn it completely different. But two is then you spend years in school under certified athletic trainers learning it, and mastering it, and being a mentee of it. I think that’s the big difference. You are not prepared to cover a sideline because you have a freaking SCS.

Lenny Macrina: The education was very good. I remember taking the test, and studying for the test, and there was a ton of stuff that made me feel like-

Mike Reinold: Like what? That you can deal with a rash?

Lenny Macrina: That was what I was going to say.

Mike Reinold: You feel good about that?

Lenny Macrina: A lot of the tests was me recognizing a scenario of a rash on a wrestler.

Mike Reinold: Are you being polite that the test was well-written? You learned about a rash.

Lenny Macrina: A lot of it was a rash. But a lot of it was also functional PT, meaning ACL progression-

Dave Tilley: Nutrition.

Lenny Macrina: Again, this was 12 years ago.

Mike Reinold: Okay. All right.

Lenny Macrina: But I think you could still learn that stuff without getting the initials.

Mike Reinold: I agree.

Lenny Macrina: It doesn’t really cost you… I think it costs at least $1500 to get the initial test. To get the initial certification. If you want to spend that money and have the initials, apparently Fernando, then-

Mike Reinold: I think they all want it. Your school is making you feel like you want it. You do realize that nobody in the world knows what those initials are.

Lenny Macrina: I was going to say that too. That’s always my stock reply on these Facebook message groups that nobody really knows. I can’t recall anybody. Maybe one person asked me what the SCS meant. “Oh, you’re a sports certified PT. Awesome.” But, in general, it didn’t mean anything.

Mike Reinold: Look, if studying for it… Dave always says that, you’ve taught me a lot about this, but if studying for it makes you better in understanding sports injuries then fantastic. That’s great. The problem is when the PT’s with an SCS think they can be an athletic trainer. That’s my only issue with the SCS. I like the SCS. I’m an SCS. I definitely didn’t renew either. But it’s not to become an athletic trainer. If you’re a physical therapist, and you want to cover sideline, and you want to work in pro sports as an athletic trainer, then you need to become an athletic trainer.

Lenny Macrina: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: That’s it.

Lenny Macrina: We’ve had students who’ve come through here, and went back to athletic trainer school. I applaud them because they got their PT license and then they went back to ATC school and learned. Learned the didactics, or the classroom stuff, and then learned from an athletic trainer at the school, and covered events. They got their hours. They did the grind. I applaud them for that.

Mike Reinold: They’re well rounded, and are good at those sorts of things.

Lenny Macrina: Correct.

Mike Reinold: Yeah. I totally agree.

Lenny Macrina: Yeah.

Mike Reinold: Here’s an interesting curveball now. We’ve been talking about this a little bit lately now. My opinion on this has evolved, even in the almost 200 episodes that we have right here. If you’re a PT right now, and you want to work in pro sports right now, what do you think is going to be a better route? Doing a sports residency and getting an SCS, or going back and getting your ETC?

Lenny Macrina: ETC.

Mike Reinold: I will tell you, you’re going to have a much, much easier job getting a job in pro sports as an ETC, and a PT ETC, then a PT with an SCS. Nobody has any idea what that is. If you want to work in pro sports right now, I think that’s kind of my current, as of today in this episode 2020, my current opinion right now. If you’re willing to put in another year and a half to do a residency and prepare for it and all that stuff, you might as well just go back to ETC school and be dual certified. I think that’s the potential next approach because I think you’re more versatile. You can do more for those athletes. You can do more things.

Mike Reinold: What’s the difference? Let’s answer quick. What’s the difference again? I think it goes down to the focus that we talked about with the definition. But I do think we have to understand this. For every physical therapist, hopefully people look up to us and watch this podcast. If you’re a young clinician and you think that you can do those sorts of things, you got to experience it a little bit more before you realize that that’s probably not the case.

Mike Reinold: Just keep that in mind. There’s two different needs, and we should have both of these professions available for us. I don’t think there’s enough overlap to say that only one of us should exist. I think we should both exist.

Mike Reinold: Anyway. Great question. Obviously a good one. We got Lenny a little fired up. I like it. Which is good. He’s definitely not re-certifying.

Lenny Macrina: Well, now I can use this episode to just tag it in Facebook as my stock response.

Mike Reinold: Well, I think we kind of summarized it. Again, there’s a difference between the two. Getting your SCS does not make you an athletic trainer. There’s lots of pro’s to the SCS. Probably not as many as your professors are telling you. But there’s lots of pro’s to it. It just doesn’t make you an athletic trainer. I think that’s the best one.

Mike Reinold: If you have any questions like that, hopefully you don’t get us as riled up as that. Head to, click on that podcast link, and you can ask away. We’ll see you on the next episode.