The Difference Between an Exercise Physiologist and a Physiotherapist

Both exercise physiologists and physiotherapists are allied health professionals who often work together in a multi-disciplinary team, collaborating with each other to help patients achieve their goals.

Majority often get confused by these two professions and wonder what the differences are even when receiving both as part of therapy.  “What is the difference between an exercise physiologist and a physiotherapist?” is a common question we get asked a lot.

It is a valid question as both professions largely involve exercise-based therapy, and the exercises prescribed can and sometimes do overlap. This article aims to highlight the main differences between the two professions so that the community has a better understanding of the reasons behind each therapy and the benefits they gain from each one.

 Exercise PhysiologistPhysiotherapist
DiagnosisUnable to diagnoseAble to assess and diagnose a physical injury or condition (eg. adhesive capsulitis a.k.a. frozen shoulder, anterior cruciate ligament tear)  
AssessmentGeneral strength, cardiovascular endurance, and function  Specific to the affected body part (eg. muscle tone, joint range and strength), gait, balance, and function  
TreatmentActive, exercise-based therapy, holistic strengthening, improve cardiovascular endurance, lifestyle modification, behavioural changeA combination of active (exercise-based) and passive (eg. joint mobilisation, soft tissue release) therapy   Specific to the affected body part (eg. improve muscle tone, joint range, strength and stability), gait retraining, equipment prescription, balance retraining, and optimise function (aim to return to baseline)  
Typical patient cohort in the communityPeople with chronic diseases (eg. diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis, eating disorders, post heart and lung surgery)People with acute through to chronic conditions (e.g. stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, recurring falls, neuropathic pain)  

Learn more about exercise physiology here.