Differences Between Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists
There are a few main differences between physiotherapists and exercise physiologists.
Physiotherapists are more likely to assess and provide an injury diagnosis than exercise physiologists who will deliver rehabilitation. Ideally, patients should see a physiotherapist in the early stage of injury when there is pain, swelling and bruising to allow them to assess and recommend treatment. The treatment may be provided by a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist.
Hands-On and Hands-Off Treatment
A physiotherapist provides more ‘hands-on’ treatment, while exercise physiologists provide ‘hands-off’ treatment. Hands-on treatment includes manipulation and massage, while hands-off treatment includes exercise and movement plans.
Physiotherapists often work with patients in the early or acute stage of rehabilitation, while exercise physiologists work with patients in the later stage and long-term rehabilitation. An exercise physiologist may also complete an assessment of a patient’s workplace.
Patients in hospital recovering from a serious injury or surgery for a chronic illness are more likely to work with a physiotherapist than an exercise physiologist. However, as their rehab continues, they may swap to an exercise physiologist. It is common for both professions to work together in multidisciplinary clinics, aged care facilities and large fitness centres, caring for the same patients as their requirements change over time.
Exercise physiologists often work with patients suffering from chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes, lung and heart-related conditions and mental illness. They advise patients on how to use exercise to improve their health and wellness. An exercise physiologist also provides patients with exercise plans to help patients lose and maintain weight. An exercise plan can also help with strength and conditioning to improve fitness.
Physiotherapists also recommend exercises for patients to do at home, but it’s usually for rehabilitating an injury rather than assisting with a chronic condition or weight loss.
Phases of Injury
The differences between the two professions can be demonstrated by the two main phases of injury.
A physiotherapist is more likely to provide care for a patient in the early or acute phase of injury where they can assist with controlling the inflammation of a joint and use manipulation to reduce pain. A physiotherapist will diagnose the injury before recommending manual therapy and any mobility aids if required by the patient.
Soft tissue and joint mobilisation training by a physiotherapist can help a patient recover range of motion in the early stages after an injury, such as an ankle sprain, or surgery. A physio can ensure a patient doesn’t stretch too far or start activity too early, which can slow or reverse the healing process.
An exercise physiologist is more likely to care for patients during their recovery phase. Patients may be provided a treatment plan that involves gentle exercises to regain range of movement, restore joint mobility and strength in the long term.
First Appointment with an Exercise Physiologist - What to Expect
At the first appointment with an exercise physiologist, it’s important to provide your therapist with information so they can get to know you. They will ask you about your current health, physical capabilities and exercise history. You may be asked about your health and exercise goals during recovery so that a treatment plan can be written to help you achieve this. Once the treatment plan has been prepared, your exercise physiologist will explain how to complete the exercises including the intensity and frequency.
Your physiologist may give you home-based, clinic-based or gym-based exercises to do. You will gain an understanding of how long to expect the treatment plan to continue to achieve your health goals.
First Appointment with a Physiotherapist - What to Expect
During your first appointment at a physiotherapist, it’s important for you to tell the physio how you were injured, what the pain is like and what activities make it worse or better. Your physiotherapist should be aware of the impact the injury is having on your lifestyle such as the work, hobbies or sport you are no longer able to enjoy. All of this information helps in completing the assessment devising a treatment plan.
As part of the diagnosis, the physiotherapist may ask you to complete movements or positions that are causing you pain. The physio is then able to do some hands-on treatment with massage or mobilisation techniques to reduce your pain and increase movement. The physio may give you some homework to do. It may be an exercise, modification in the way you sit or sleep, or making a note of when your symptoms flare.
Your physiotherapist will likely finish the appointment with some information on continuing treatment and what to expect in terms of recovery or milestones to recovery.
Making an Appointment with an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist
If you’re unsure whether you should make an appointment with an exercise physiologist or a physiotherapist, consider if the injury is new and undiagnosed. If this is the case, see a physiotherapist. If it’s an existing injury and you’re hoping to regain strength and mobility, an exercise physiologist can assist. Whatever your injury or illness, your GP can help find the right professional for you. If you have a chronic illness, speak to your GP about whether an exercise physiologist may benefit you.
Now that you know the difference between exercise physiology and physiotherapy, you'll know who to see and when. With HIF's extras cover, you'll have access to services like exercise physiology and physiotherapy.