One of the most common questions we are asked at BJC is “What’s the difference between an Exercise Physiologist and a Physiotherapist?”
Which is often followed closely by “So which one do I need for my troublesome knee/hip/shoulder?”
Both are good questions, since both professions work within a similar space. The answer to these questions aren't always straightforward, but I’ll try to provide some clarity in this post. And in case you are wondering, we think both EP's and Physio's are superheroes in their own right!!
Let's start with the similarities:
- Both are professionals within Allied Health: a sector of healthcare involved in the direct care of a patient or client, but doesn’t fall under medical, dental or nursing.
- EP's and Physio's both study for a minimum of four years at University, and specialise in preventing and treating a range of conditions and illnesses. It is now more common to see both EP’s and Physio’s working together in a multidisciplinary team, alongside doctors and other practitioners, just like at BJC.
- The other big parallel is both share a common goal: helping our clients move and feel better!
The differences between the two professions starts with the ‘how’ and ‘why’ each profession goes about achieving that goal.
- Physiotherapists tend to specialise in the initial treatment of an injury or illness. After performing a thorough assessment, they should be able to provide you a diagnosis and prognosis for your presenting problem. They will likely try and reduce your pain and improve your movement by using a range of different treatment options such as manual therapy, (which may include soft tissue massage and joint mobilisation) dry needling, taping, and exercise. A great Physio should help restore your day to day life as quickly as possible.
- Exercise Physiologists utilise exercise for injury and chronic disease prevention and management. They also address lifestyle choices and behaviours taking a holistic approach to health. They look at how an injury or condition affects a patient’s daily life and provides advice and tailored exercise recommendations to improve health, well-being and performance.
Let’s use an analogy to help show the differences:
You take your car to a mechanic’s workshop. You’ve brought the car in with one goal: to fix it and make sure it doesn’t break down again. The first mechanic (let’s call him Phil) sees that your brakes are worn down; he suggests we change the brake pads so you can get straight back to driving. Ethan (the second mechanic) notices that the way you drive is affecting the longevity of your brake pads. He makes a few suggestions that should help your brakes last longer.
In case you didn’t see it, Phil is the Physio, and Ethan is the EP. Phil the Physio addressed the immediate issue – fix the problem. Ethan the EP comes in a bit later and assists the client to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again. Now exchange ‘brake pads’ for osteoarthritis or lower back pain, and you get a good idea of how Physio's and EP's can work together.
I should also mention there is a lot of overlap between the two. In more recent years, Physiotherapist's have started utilising exercise a lot more in their treatments, while Exercise Physiologists are providing stretching and trigger point therapy as a form of self-manipulation and mobilisation.
Whether you’re in the early stages of an injury, or managing a long-term condition, both Physiotherapist's and Exercise Physiologist's have a place in your health care plan. Although they can differ in ‘how’ they treat, the ‘why’ is the same – Physio's and EP's share a common goal and complement each other.
Just don’t bring your car into our clinic :)