Difference between physiotherapists and exercise physiologists
Written by: Liz
Category: General Health
Published on: March 21, 2022

What is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist? 

Accredited exercise physiologists (AEP) are university qualified allied health professionals equipped with the knowledge, skills, and competencies to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise interventions for people with acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions, injuries, or disabilities. 

Pathology domains covered by the services of AEPs include cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, cancers, kidney, respiratory / pulmonary and mental health, and any other conditions for which there is evidence that exercise can improve the client’s clinical status. 

Additionally, an AEP will include health and physical activity education, advice, and support lifestyle modification with a strong focus on achieving behavioural change. Exercise physiologists can also work with athletes, both recreationally and elite.  They can develop a tailored program that aims to increase their potential and progress their athletic development / performance.

To become an AEP the person must:

  • Graduate from a minimum 4 years of study in an ESSA accredited course. 
  • Meet the professional standards for exercise science, leading to accreditation as an 

Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES)*, including 140 hours of practical experience for the purpose of undertaking an exercise intervention to improve health and fitness, wellbeing, or performance, or focus on prevention of chronic conditions, and

  • Meet the professional standards for exercise physiology, including 360 hours of practical experience with clients with clinical conditions (eg. cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, musculoskeletal, neurological)

To remain accredited an AEP must:

  • Hold and maintain a valid first aid and CPR certificate
  • Hold and maintain appropriate professional indemnity insurance
  • Complete an annual continuing professional program comprising 20 points per annual

What is a physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is also a university qualified health professional. A Physiotherapists role includes assessing the client, diagnoses, treating and managing conditions, disabilities, and injuries. It is quite common for a physiotherapist to be the first point of contact if a person has sustained a musculoskeletal injury.  Physiotherapist use physical treatment to help improve mobility, reduce pain and tightness, and recover from an injury.

Physiotherapists tend to have a more ‘hand on approach’, as by the examples listed below: 

– Exercise and rehabilitation programs to help improve mobility and strengthen muscle
– Joint manipulation and mobilisation to reduce pain and stiffness
– Soft tissue mobilisation / massage
– Dry needling

Like an Exercise Physiologist, a physiotherapist’s pathology domain includes musculoskeletal, general, work or sport related injuries, chronic pain and conditions, and rehabilitation post-surgery.
A physiotherapist may also educate the client to help them have a better understanding of their condition and what must be done to ensure an effective recovery.  

Difference between an Exercise Physiologist and a Physiotherapist?

An exercise physiologist mainly works in the mid to late stages of an injury, however, can work in the acute phase after diagnosis. Their main goal is to help people return to activities and exercises that they previously used to do before they got injured. To achieve this goal an exercise physiologist will use exercise-based interventions that are scientifically proven and tailored to the client. The same applies for a chronic condition, the exercise physiologists’ goal is to try and achieve optimal health and wellbeing for the person to improve their quality of life, so they can participate in activities of daily living or activities they previously used to enjoy. Furthermore, an exercise physiologist can work with healthy population to improve muscular strength and conditioning to increase your physical capacity.

A physiotherapist can work through all phases of an injury, however the most important part for a physiotherapist is the acute phase. The acute phase is after the injury has just occurred and visiting a Physiotherapist in this phase is the most beneficial and effective. Earlier intervention means shorter recovery times and, in most cases, a more effective outcome. They’ll assess, diagnose, and develop a program for you to commence your recovery and rehabilitation. Another key difference is a physiotherapist will often use a more ‘hands on approach’ which includes muscle and joint manipulation and dry needling and massage. 

How can an exercise physiologist help me and when you should see one?
An exercise physiologist is equipped with the skills and knowledge to assist you with: 

  • Recovery from an injury 
  • You have an old injury, and you are concerned about aggravating or causing further damage
  • A chronic health condition that needs to be managed e.g diabetes, obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia 
  • You want an exercise program that is tailored to your health and wellbeing goals





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