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Exercise Physiologist vs Physiotherapist – What’s the Difference?

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Chris Dounis

Chris is an accredited exercise physiologist with over 15 years professional experience working with a wide range of clients.
Learn more about Chris here.

When it comes to managing our health and well-being, we often encounter a diverse array of healthcare professionals who specialise in various aspects of physical health. Two such specialists, Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists, often play pivotal roles in helping individuals improve their physical function and overall well-being.

However, many people are not clear about the distinctions between these two professions and the specific roles they play in healthcare. In this article, we will explore the key differences between an Exercise Physiologist vs Physiotherapist, shedding light on their unique skill sets, education, and the types of conditions they typically address.

What is an Exercise Physiologist

An Exercise Physiologist is a healthcare professional who specialises in the science of exercise. We are experts in the field of Exercise Physiology, which is the study of how the body responds and adapts to physical activity. Exercise Physiologists use this knowledge to help individuals enhance their physical fitness, prevent or manage chronic diseases, and improve their overall health and well-being.

Key Roles and Responsibilities of an Exercise Physiologist:

Assessing Physical Fitness

Exercise Physiologists evaluate an individual’s current physical fitness levels by conducting various assessments, including cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, and body composition. These assessments help create a baseline for designing personalised exercise programs.

Designing Exercise Programs

Once an individual’s fitness levels are assessed, Exercise Physiologists create tailored exercise programs to help them achieve their specific health and fitness goals. These programs may include cardiorespiratory training, strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance training.

Chronic Disease Management

Exercise Physiologists often work with individuals who have chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity. We develop exercise regimens that are safe and effective for managing these conditions and improving overall health.

Injury Prevention

Exercise Physiologists play a crucial role in injury prevention by helping individuals improve their physical fitness and body mechanics. This can reduce the risk of injuries.

Monitoring Progress

They closely monitor an individual’s progress and make necessary adjustments to the exercise program to ensure continuous improvement. This may involve increasing the intensity of workouts, modifying exercises, or incorporating new techniques.

Education and Qualifications of an Exercise Physiologist:

To become an Exercise Physiologist, a 4 year university degree is required, with hundreds of hours of practical experience layered on top. Once complete, we are then able to register as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist with Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), receive a Medicare Provider Number and register ourselves with the multitude of Private Health Funds that offer rebates for Exercise Physiology.

What is a Physiotherapist

A Physiotherapist is a healthcare professional specialising in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of physical impairments, injuries, and disabilities. They use a range of therapeutic techniques to help individuals regain or improve their physical function and mobility.

Key Roles and Responsibilities of a Physiotherapist:

Assessment and Diagnosis

Physiotherapists begin by assessing an individual’s physical condition and diagnosing the underlying issues that may be causing pain or limited mobility. This assessment involves a thorough examination of the musculoskeletal and neurological systems.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Once the assessment is complete, physiotherapists develop personalised treatment plans to address the specific issues identified. These treatment plans often involve a combination of manual therapies, exercises, and modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation.

Pain Management

Physiotherapists help manage pain, whether it’s due to a recent injury, a chronic condition, or post-surgery recovery. They may use techniques like manual therapy, therapeutic exercises, and pain-relief modalities.

Restoring Mobility

Physiotherapists work to restore and improve an individual’s mobility, flexibility, and strength. They help patients regain functional independence and reduce limitations in daily activities.

Injury Prevention and Education: Physiotherapists provide education and advice on how to prevent injuries and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They often work with athletes, helping them prevent sports-related injuries.

Education and Qualifications of a Physiotherapist:

Much like with the requirements for Exercise Physiology, a 4 year university degree is required. This will then give the Physiotherapist the capacity to apply for accreditation with the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA). They will also then be able to receive a Medicare Provider Number and register with Private Health Funds.

Key Differences Between Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists

Education and Training: The primary difference lies in their educational backgrounds and training. Exercise Physiologists focus on exercise science and physiology, while Physiotherapists have specialised training in physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Assessment vs. Diagnosis

Exercise Physiologists assess an individual’s fitness levels and design exercise programs, while Physiotherapists assess, diagnose, and treat physical impairments, injuries, and disabilities.

Clinical vs. Rehabilitation

Exercise Physiologists primarily work in clinical settings, helping individuals improve their physical fitness and manage chronic conditions. Physiotherapists often work in rehabilitation settings, treating a wide range of musculoskeletal and neurological issues.

Scope of Practice

Exercise Physiologists do not diagnose or treat medical conditions. Their focus is on fitness and exercise prescription. In contrast, Physiotherapists are diagnosticians who treat a wide range of physical health issues.

In summary, Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists are both valuable healthcare professionals who play distinct roles in helping individuals achieve and maintain good physical health.

While Exercise Physiologists specialise in fitness assessment and exercise program design, Physiotherapists diagnose and treat a broad range of physical impairments and injuries. It’s important to understand the differences between these two professions to make informed choices when seeking healthcare services. Whether you’re aiming to improve your fitness, manage a chronic condition, or recover from an injury, both Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists can be instrumental in your journey to better health and well-being.


This series does not serve as specific medical advice, and should be viewed as educational ONLY. Chronic pain is an individual and complex experience, and as such, any treatment needs to be tailored to the individual. Always seek advice from a relevant medical professional before undertaking any treatment or exercise program.


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