Exercise Physiology is a somewhat new profession. Most people haven’t heard of Exercise Physiologists or think that they are Physiotherapists. Granted, we are similar, and should work together to get the best possible outcomes for our patients. Although this is the case, there are some differences which we will now clear up below.

What is a Physiotherapist?

A Physiotherapist is trained to use a battery of different tests to diagnose conditions/injuries. Their treatment involves a mixture of both passive and active treatments to help elevate or improve their patients’ symptoms/presentation. Physiotherapists work with predominantly with musculoskeletal, cardio-respiratory and neurological conditions. An example of a passive treatment would include hands on massage/release work for a person suffering from an acute injury such as a hamstring strain. Active treatments include providing specific exercises for the patient to perform which look to target a patient’s specific need.

What is an Exercise Physiologist?

As the name implies, an Exercise Physiologist (EP) uses active treatment in the way of Exercise to improve a person’s physiology (the working parts of the human body). EPs don’t use passive therapies and although they have a great understanding of different conditions, they are not trained to diagnose like a Physiotherapist can. Exercise Physiologists are trained for 4 years or more in how to most effectively prescribe exercise to deal with musculoskeletal, metabolic, neurological, cardio-respiratory and other conditions like mental health. They also work with those who don’t have any presenting injuries as such, but who would benefit from a strength and conditioning program to stay fit and healthy, prevent injury and improve their athletic performance in their given sport.

An Exercise Physiologist initially assesses a patient’s presenting or previous conditions if any, goals, current physical activity level and current training regime. They also objectively measure body composition, strength, flexibility, balance, aerobic capacity, movement quality and plyometric capacity. With all this information they can then design a holistic exercise program tailored specifically to the client. This is with the aim of assisting them achieve their health, fitness or athletic goals. An Exercise Physiologist should be a good teacher and guide who provides you with the right tools and techniques to help you take ownership of, and achieve, your goals.

When to see a Physiotherapist before an Exercise Physiologist

Physiotherapy is normally your first point of call with any acute musculoskeletal injury. Acute normally means from the initial date of injury up to 3 weeks. Seeing a Physiotherapist will allow for a correct diagnosis, the passive therapy (such as massage), and active therapy (involving specific light exercises for your injury) which is what they do best. From there, a good Physiotherapist will refer you onto an Exercise Physiologist. They will finalise your treatment by providing you with a more holistic exercise program. This will allow you to continue healing from your injury and prevent re-injury in the future. At Sydney West Sports Medicine, our Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists work extremely well together in this regard to help our patients recover from their injuries quickly and stay recovered into the future.

When to see and Exercise Physiologist first

Exercise Physiology is the service for you right away (once you have a medical clearance from your GP) if:

  • You suffer from a metabolic condition such as diabetes, being overweight, high cholesterol or have cardio-respiratory issues.
  • If you need assistance performing exercise due to a neurological condition (e.g. spinal-cord injury).
  • If you have a chronic musculoskeletal condition and the continued passive treatments from a Physiotherapy have run their course.
  • If you have a mental health condition or mood disorder that exercise would help to control/improve.
  • If you are older and find you are losing muscle but increasing in weight.

Exercise Physiology is the service for you right away even without medical clearance from your GP if:

  • You want to improve your overall health and fitness with no existing injury or condition.
  • You want to be guided through a strength and conditioning program to improve athletic development, performance and prevent injury, or undergo performance-based testing such as jump profiling, and VO2max testing.

What type of compensable services can A Exercise Physiologist Provide?

  • Medicare – clinical exercise services via a chronic disease management plan for individual allied health sessions (max 5 per calendar year), Type 2 Diabetes allied health group services (initial assessment plus 8 group sessions per calendar year), and allied health services for Indigenous Australians (max 5 per calendar year) with a valid referral from a GP.
  • Department of Veteran Affairs – White and Gold card holders with a Doctor’s referral.
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme – Depending on their plan type, participants can use a Local Area Coordinator, a Support Coordinator, the Provider Finder or word-of-mouth to find appropriate providers to deliver the services outlined in their plan.
  • Workers Compensation and CTP Claims
  • Private Patients & Private Health Insurers (PHI) – Patients can self-refer; however, they must have a policy that includes Exercise Physiology cover if they wish to receive possible rebates from their PHI.

Summing up

Hopefully, this has given some insight into the differences between a Physiotherapist and an Exercise Physiologist. Although there are similarities and differences, I hope it is clear that health care is best practised in a holistic environment with different services working together to give their patients the best health outcome possible. At Sydney West Sports Medicine we strive to make this a reality and will make sure you see the right practitioner for your presentation.