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Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist: what’s the difference?

Musculoskeletal disorders are the biggest cause of disability. Despite the billions spent, the problem is just getting worse. Latest medical guidelines strongly recommend exercise therapy as the first-line-treatment for musculoskeletal disorders instead of much more expensive surgeries.
By Geoffrey Mackay, Co-founder of getback and Principal of Middle Park Physiotherapy

One of the most frequently asked questions by patients is ‘What’s the difference between a Physiotherapist and an Exercise Physiologist?’

getback encourages a multidisciplinary approach when treating patients with back and neck pain and relies predominantly on the skills of Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists.

While our Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists work hand-in-hand with complementary skills to provide the best outcomes for patients, they focus on different aspects of your treatment.

According to The Australian Physiotherapy Association, Physiotherapists ‘help you get the most out of life.’

‘They help you recover from injury, reduce pain and stiffness, increase mobility and prevent further injury. Theylisten to your needs to tailor a treatment specific to your condition.

‘As first contact practitioners, you don’t need a doctor’s referral to see a physiotherapist.

‘Physiotherapists, doctors, and other health professionals will often work as part of a team to plan and manage treatment for a specific condition.’

Physiotherapists have an extensive understanding of the physical, structural and physiological aspects of human form and movement, which allows them to plan, manage and diagnose conditions.

A Physiotherapist’s training concentrates on a ‘hands on’ approach reflective of its needs-based origins.

Exercise Physiology, on the other hand, is a newer profession which relies on the growing body of knowledge accumulated by their professional leaders, Exercise Scientists.

An Exercise Physiologist’s training emphasises the delivery and evaluation of exercise programs based on Exercise Science, where scientific concepts are applied to quantify and qualify exercise delivery.

This training equips Exercise Physiologists with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise interventions for a wide variety of patients. These patients include people with acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions for which there is evidence that exercise can improve their clinical status. 

Our Physiotherapists’ ability to empathetically manage a patient’s journey complements the skills of our Exercise Physiologists in applying scientific methodology to deliver patients an evidence-based outcome.

The combination of these differing professions allows getback to develop tailored, scientific programs to support patients on their individual journey to spinal health.

‘Exercise is medicine’ is an often used saying. Physiotherapists are better at explaining the type of medicine you need, while Exercise Physiologists explain how much and how often you take the medicine.

I hope this explanation sheds further light on the role of your Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist.