Longevity Exercise Physiology and Personal Training Edgecliff, Lindfield, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain and Bella Vista today look at the differences between exercise physiologists and physiotherapists.

One of the most frequent questions we get asked as exercise physiologists is how our profession differs from that of a physiotherapist. This inquiry can often come from patients, friends, family and even other health professionals. Sometimes, they are even considered one and the same.

While both are allied health professionals that share common end goal of enhancing a patient’s quality of life, their methods of treatment and types of conditions they see are quite different. As exercise physiologists, we aim to deliver high-quality treatment to optimise both physical function, health and wellness. However, both professions can work in a varied scope of practice so it is only natural that there is confusion between the two.

Hence, we are here to shed some light on this common query and provide clarity for anyone who might unsure.

So how do we tell the difference between the two?

To start off, it is important to recognize the three main types of health issues. Whenever one decides to see a health professional, regardless of who it is, people will present with three types of health problems: ACUTE, SUB-ACUTE and CHRONIC conditions, and or/illnesses.

ACUTE refers to pain or injury that begins suddenly, typically 1-2 weeks in. You may or may not know what caused this acute condition, although it causes you pain and affects your functional ability.

SUB-ACUTE refers to when the pain or injury has been relatively managed and the focus is now shifted on repairing tissue and mobilization of the affected part of the body. This can be as early as 3-4 weeks in and last up to 6 weeks post-trauma/injury.

CHRONIC refers to any condition or illness that has lasted for 6 months or more. It is an ongoing issue that affects your ability to function normally and perform your daily activities.

There is also a strong focus on behavioural change, self-management strategies and education on your condition to get you back to a healthy functioning state.

Exercise physiologists treat mostly SUB-ACUTE and CHRONIC health conditions, injuries and/or illnesses. After a comprehensive assessment, patients are prescribed an exercise program akin to how a doctor prescribes medicine, in order to treat and manage a condition. There is also a strong focus on behavioural change, self-management strategies and education on your condition to get you back to a healthy functioning state.

Physiotherapists primarily treat ACUTE and SUB-ACUTE patients using physical techniques such as manipulation, massage and dry needling. There is also a focus on exercise to increase mobility, range of motion through joints and strength of injured body parts.

Often times, a physiotherapist and exercise physiologist may see a client for the same condition, but at different STAGES of it. For example, someone who hurt their back while lifting something may initially see a physiotherapist to undergo manual therapy, manage symptoms and control inflammation, and then learn basic exercises to restore movement. Then, they would go to an exercise physiologist to get progress onto eventually lifting heavier loads at work, get back to mowing the lawn and returning to golf on the weekend.

Below is a table summarizing the differences between the two professions:

Exercise Physiologist Physiotherapist
·         Provides ‘hands off’ treatment or active treatment through specific clinical exercise programs ·         Provides mainly ‘hands on’ passive treatment (e.g. joint manipulation, massage and dry needling) but can also prescribe exercises
·         Delivers prescription and education on trigger point therapy and self-massage techniques (e.g. foam rollers and trigger point balls) ·         Delivers soft tissue mobilisation through massage, acupuncture, dry needling and ultra-sounds and can also prescribe self-massage techniques
·         Receives the diagnosis and delivers the rehabilitation prognosis ·         Delivers the injury diagnosis and prognosis
·         Specialise in providing lifestyle education, behavioural modification and self-management techniques to support those with a wide range of chronic health conditions to promote improved health and wellness and decrease risk of all-cause morbidity ·         Specialise in the acute phase of an injury, and can also deliver long-term rehabilitation and health monitoring.
·         Provides treatment through exercise programmes for musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, pulmonary, cancer, metabolic, mental health and neurological conditions, as well as assisting in pre- and post-surgical operations. Interventions include health and physical activity education, advice, support and lifestyle modification with a strong focus on achieving behavioural change. ·         Provides treatment using through joint manipulation and mobilisation, exercise prescription, massage, acupuncture and dry needling, airway clearance techniques and breathing exercises, and assistance in the use of mobility aids. Treatment is focused on aimed towards recovery from injury, restoring mobility and functionality, and prevention of re-injury.


·         Requires 4 years of Bachelor’s degree or 2 years Master’s degree ·         Requires 4 years of Bachelor’s degree or 2 years Master’s degree
·         Recognised by Medicare, DVA, Workcover, NDIS and private health funds ·         Recognised by Medicare, DVA, Workcover, NDIS private health funds


As you can see there is definitely a slight overlap with the two professions, since they are both have a large focus on improving one’s physical capacity.  However, since exercise physiology is relatively new profession compared to physiotherapy, it is our ultimate duty to provide education to both members of the public and fellow health practitioners on what our role is as exercise specialists and the long-standing value of exercise for one’s health and wellbeing.

Contact Longevity Personal Training and Exercise Physiology Edgecliff, Lindfield, Marrickville, Randwick, Drummoyne, Balmain, Bella Vista on 1300 964 002 to experience an exercise physiology session for yourself!

Written by Jackie Cheung