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Physio vs Exercise Physiologist?

As an Exercise Physiologist (EP) a couple of questions I am very commonly asked are “so are you a physio?” or “what is the difference between you and a physio?”. Due to a number of similarities, and the fact Exercise Physiology is relatively new compared to other allied health professions, there can be some confusion.

So what are the similarities between the two professions? Firstly, both are allied health professionals who studied at University for four or more years and studied subjects including anatomy and physiology. Both professions also have very broad scopes, with both EP’s and Physiotherapists having jobs in aged care, hospitals, chronic disease management, musculoskeletal rehabilitation, paediatric and elite sports, to name a few. The two make assessments and treat or provide interventions based on those assessments. This is where some of the differences arise.

Firstly, Physiotherapists; from assessment, Physiotherapists are able to diagnose and provide intervention for that diagnosis. Physiotherapists provide treatment in a number of different forms. These include advice and education, manual therapy, electrophysical agents (ultrasound, TENS and EMS or NMES), external physical aids (wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches, orthoses, taping, and so on) and finally, exercise.

Then there’s EP’s. An EP can develop a hypothesis from his/her assessment and treat the perceived problem they may observe. Exercise Physiologists analyse the way a person moves, their strengths and weaknesses and aim to treat the system as a whole. Exercise Physiologists treatment includes advice and education, though is predominantly based around movement and various forms of exercise, as this is what they do best. In addition to this, EP’s are also trained in assisting with behaviour change. As exercise as a treatment is much more effective in higher doses, it is important to be completed regularly. Thus, if you are not currently exercising enough, a behaviour change might be needed, to help you achieve your goals.

Finally, the two work very well together! The Physiotherapist is able to provide diagnosis and in some cases acute relief of pain, with this the EP is able to hone in on their area of expertise in exercise, assisting movement and facilitating positive behavioural changes, in turn, keeping that pain away!

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