Exploring this Job

If you are a high school student interested in this type of work, you can get experience in several ways. Basic physical education courses as well as team sports, like volleyball or track, will help you gain an appreciation for the possibilities and limitations of the body. Plan and carry out exercise programs, or instruct others in proper exercise techniques. Many exercise classes are often offered in scouting and by organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA.

Opportunities for volunteer, part-time, or summer work may be available at facilities that have kinesiology or kinesiotherapy programs, such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and summer camps for disabled children. Health and exercise clubs also may have summer work or part-time jobs. In addition, you may be able to visit kinesiology departments at health care centers to talk with staff members and see how they work.

The Job

Kinesiology is a broad field covering the study of how muscles act and coordinate to move the body. Many diverse career opportunities are open to those who have studied kinesiology; for example, jobs in this area include physical education or dance teachers, coaches of sports teams, health and fitness consultants, athletic or personal trainers, and researchers in biomechanics. Kinesiologists are usually identified by their specialty, such as athletic trainer, but for the purposes of this article we will examine the broader, interchangeable titles of kinesiologist and kinesiotherapist. All kinesiologists use muscle testing and physical therapy to evaluate and correct the state of various bodily functions in their patients. Kinesiologists take all body systems into account when treating a patient. And that is the most important aspect of kinesiology: Its aim is to treat the whole patient, not to correct a disorder. Kinesiologists allow patients to work through a disability or disorder.

Kinesiologists work with a wide range of people, both individually and in groups. Their patients may be disabled children or adults, geriatric patients, psychiatric patients, the developmentally disabled, or amputees. Some may have had heart attacks, strokes, or spinal injuries. Others may be affected by such conditions as arthritis, impaired circulation, or cerebral palsy. Kinesiologists also work with people who were involved in automobile accidents, have congenital birth defects, or have sustained sports injuries.

These professionals work to help their clients be more self-reliant, enjoy leisure activities, and even adapt to new ways of living, working, and thriving. Although kinesiologists work with their patients physically, giving them constant encouragement and emotional support is also an important part of their work.

Kinesiologists' responsibilities may include teaching patients to use artificial limbs or walk with canes, crutches, or braces. They may help visually impaired people learn how to move around without help or teach patients who cannot walk how to drive cars with hand controls. For mentally ill people, therapists may develop therapeutic activities that help them release tension or teach them how to cooperate with others.

The work is often physically demanding. Kinesiologists work with such equipment as weights, pulleys, bikes, and rowing machines. They demonstrate exercises so their patients can learn to do them and also may teach members of their patients' families to help the patients exercise. They may work with their patients in swimming pools, whirlpools, saunas, or other therapeutic settings. When patients are very weak or have limited mobility, therapists may help them exercise by lifting them or moving their limbs.

Kinesiologists work as members of medical teams. Physicians describe the kind of exercise their patients should have, and then the therapists develop programs to meet the specific needs of the patients. Other members of the medical team may include nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, massage therapists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and vocational counselors.

Kinesiologists write reports on the clients' progress to provide necessary information for other members of the medical team. These reports, which describe the treatments and their results, may also provide useful information for researchers and other members of the health care team.

These therapists do not do the same work as physical therapists, orthotists, or prosthetists. Physical therapists test and measure the functions of the musculoskeletal, neurological, pulmonary, and cardiovascular systems and treat the problems that occur in these systems. Orthotists are concerned with supporting and bracing weak or ineffective joints and muscles, and prosthetists are concerned with replacing missing body parts with artificial devices. Kinesiologists focus instead on the interconnection of all these systems. In certain cases, they may refer a patient to another specialist for additional treatment.