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What is the Difference Between Physiotherapy and Exercise Physiology? 

If you’ve considered seeing a physiotherapist, you’ve probably come across exercise physiologists in your search. AndDifference Between Physiotherapy and Exercise Physiology vice versa! Getting the two mixed up is a common occurrence, as from the outside it may appear people in these professions do the same thing but just call it different names. However, there’s much more nuance to the differences between these two approaches to well-being and physical fitness. 

This article explores the similarities and differences between physiotherapy and exercise physiology. For personalised advice, contact our team at Northern Districts Physiotherapy today.



What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy typically focuses on rehabilitation, recovery, and pain management. Physiotherapists aim to diagnose and address a wide range of physical conditions that may impact the way you move, such as musculoskeletal injuries. 

Typically, a physiotherapist will talk with you about your medical history and ask about any current or past injuries that may be playing a role in the way you function. They will also generally assess your strength, flexibility, posture, and range of motion. With the information they gather from these assessments, if they feel they may be able to help you, they will develop a personalised treatment plan geared towards your specific needs and goals.

Education and Training

For somebody to become a physiotherapist in Australia, they must complete a Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree in physiotherapy. This degree must be obtained by a university accredited by the Australian Physiotherapy Council (APC)

They will then need to undertake supervised clinical placements in a range of healthcare settings so that they gain experience working with a variety of people while under the guidance of qualified physiotherapists. 

Following placements, they will need to apply for registration with the Physiotherapy Board of Australia, which is a legal requirement in order to practise as a physiotherapist.


The approach a physiotherapist will take towards a person’s treatment plan will differ from one person to the next, even if their injuries may be the same. This is because each person’s body functions differently, and will therefore require different approaches.

Some approaches used by physiotherapists include:

  • Exercise programs that focus on enhancing mobility through muscle strengthening and improving flexibility
  • Manual therapy such as joint mobilisation and soft tissue massage in an effort to reduce pain and enhance tissue healing
  • Electrotherapy methods such as ultrasound and shockwave therapy
  • Functional training for day-to-day tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, moving heavy objects, and so on
  • Heat and/or ice therapies
  • Education and advice regarding posture, ergonomics, and body mechanics, among others


Exercise Physiology

What is Exercise Physiology?

Exercise physiology is centred around optimising physical performance and seeing how the body adapts and responds to exercise. As well as aiming to improve performance, exercise physiologists are concerned with improving your fitness level through targeted exercises.

As with physiotherapy, every person interested in exercise physiology will have a different reason for considering it. Again, this is because each person’s body is different, as are their goals and fitness levels. As such, an exercise physiologist aims to design and implement an exercise program that’s tailored to your specific needs and goals. 

Whether you’re most interested in weight management, improving your athletic performance, improving your general fitness level, or a combination of these, an exercise physiologist will consider your optimal end result and tailor your program around that goal.

Education and Training

Exercise physiologists in Australia need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology or a related field of study. Whether their degree is in Exercise Physiology or something else, the program needs to be accredited by the organisation that governs exercise physiology in Australia called Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA).

Similar to physiotherapy, people who complete their degree in exercise physiology will need to undergo clinical placement where they can put their learned skills into practice. This offers real-world experience that is extremely valuable for their future career.

After completing their clinical placements, exercise physiologists must receive accreditation from Exercise and Sports Science Australia. For anybody in the field who wants to work in a clinical setting such as in a hospital or for people with chronic conditions, they may choose to undertake further training called Clinical Exercise Physiology (CEP).


Exercise physiologists are generally focused on gradual improvement, and look very carefully at safety and proper form while performing exercises, much like physiotherapists do. They will also take your age, fitness level, and any underlying conditions into account in an effort to prevent injuries and promote long-term success and goal achievement. 

Similarly to physiotherapists, exercise physiologists will talk with you and perform assessments to gauge your level of fitness and any physical limitations you may have. They are especially concerned with assisting people to perform daily movements with greater ease, which again will differ between people, so each person’s program will look different. 

As their focus is on exercise, guiding you through exercises tailored to you and ensuring you do them with proper form is the goal. They will demonstrate proper techniques so that you can follow along while they monitor your form and provide feedback, helping you to improve with each session.


The Key Differences Between Physiotherapy and Exercise Physiology


Physiotherapy: Concentes on rehabilitation, injury recovery, and pain management.

Exercise Physiology: Places an emphasis on optimising physical performance, fitness, and health.


Physiotherapy: Aims to restore functional mobility, manage pain, and enhance overall physical well-being.

Exercise Physiology: Strives to enhance athletic performance, cardiovascular fitness, and muscular strength.



Physiotherapy: Involves a holistic approach addressing various aspects of health, often combining multiple modalities.

Exercise Physiology: Focuses on exercise prescription and training regimens tailored to individual goals. 

Interested in Physiotherapy? 

Both physiotherapy and exercise physiology have a place in assisting people to live and function as well as possible. While they share some differences, they also share similarities and may be used either separately or together in an effort to reach certain goals. At NDPE, we offer physiotherapy services to people in West Ryde and surrounding areas. To make an appointment, get in touch with our experienced team today.



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Northern Districts Physiotherapy

Northern Districts Physiotherapy & Sports Clinic was established in 1995 and consists of an energetic team of highly qualified and experienced professionals who take the time to understand ...


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