Physio vs. Exercise Physiologist: Navigating Health Choices


Navigating the Healthcare Maze

Imagine this, you have just woken up with an incredibly sore shoulder from a big day prior in the garden. You Google “Shoulder pain” and over a million different options show for different forms of treatment. The most common non-operative options that come up show Exercise Physiology and Physiotherapy. You wonder… “What is the difference?” and “Who is right for me?”.

We get it. Picking the right health professional can be a daunting task, influenced by a myriad of factors such as advice from friends, family, doctors, and the often-confusing realm of social media. In this article, we’ll unravel the complexities and guide you through the decision-making process.


Similarities: Physiotherapists and Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs)

  1. Allied Health Professionals: Both Physiotherapists and AEPs fall under the umbrella of allied health, sharing a common dedication to improving individuals’ health and well-being.
  2. Collaborative Approach: Both professions often collaborate within multidisciplinary teams, working seamlessly with other healthcare professionals to provide holistic care.
  3. Patient-Centered Care: A shared commitment to patient-centered care ensures that interventions are tailored to individual needs, preferences, and goals.
  4. Preventive Health: While addressing existing health issues, both professions focus on preventive measures, aiming to reduce the risk of future injuries and chronic conditions through education and intervention.
  5. Evidence-Based Practice: Physiotherapists and AEPs adhere to evidence-based practice, ensuring that their interventions are rooted in the latest research and clinical evidence.
  6. Lifestyle Modification: Both professionals recognise the importance of lifestyle modifications and provide guidance on habits, postures, and movements to enhance overall health and prevent health issues.
  7. Educational Role: Whether it’s teaching exercises for rehabilitation or imparting knowledge on injury prevention, both professions play an educational role in empowering individuals to take control of their health.
  8. Rehabilitation: Physiotherapists and AEPs contribute significantly to rehabilitation efforts, aiding individuals in recovering from injuries, surgeries, and managing chronic conditions.
  9. Public and Private Settings: Both professions work across various settings, including public and private hospitals, community health centers, private clinics, fitness centers, and rehabilitation facilities.
  10. Continuous Professional Development: Commitment to continuous professional development is a shared value, ensuring that practitioners stay updated with evolving research, technology, and practices in their respective fields.

These shared characteristics underscore the synergies between Physiotherapists and AEPs, reinforcing their joint commitment to holistic health and patient-centred care.

Differences: Physiotherapists vs. Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs)


  1. Diagnostic Expertise: Physiotherapists are trained in comprehensive assessments and diagnostics, allowing them to identify the root causes of musculoskeletal issues, injuries, and various health conditions.
  2. Hands-On Techniques: Employing hands-on techniques such as joint manipulation, mobilisation, and soft tissue massage, physiotherapists focus on immediate relief and restoration of optimal physical function.
  3. Respiratory Care: Physiotherapists specialise in respiratory physiotherapy, providing techniques and exercises to enhance lung function and manage conditions affecting breathing.
  4. Specialised Areas: Physiotherapists demonstrate expertise in diverse fields such as musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory physiotherapy, tailoring their interventions to specific health domains.
  5. Rehabilitation Services: They play a key role in post-surgery recovery, injury rehabilitation, and chronic disease management, offering a broad spectrum of rehabilitative services.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs):

  1. Exercise Prescription: AEPs specialise in designing, delivering, and adapting evidence-based exercise interventions for individuals with acute, sub-acute, or chronic medical conditions, focusing on enhancing overall health and well-being.
  2. Pathology Domains: Covering cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, and mental health conditions, AEPs address a wide range of health issues through targeted exercise programs.
  3. Preventive Focus: AEPs emphasise preventive measures, working to reduce the risk of chronic conditions and injuries through tailored exercise plans, promoting long-term health.
  4. Dual Accreditation: AEPs hold dual accreditation as Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES) and AEPs, expanding their scope beyond clinical exercise interventions to include health and fitness assessments.
  5. Holistic Approach: AEPs adopt a holistic approach, considering the overall health and well-being of individuals. They integrate exercise into lifestyle changes for sustainable health improvements.

Understanding these nuanced differences highlights the unique strengths that each profession brings to the table, contributing to the comprehensive care and optimisation of individual health.


How can both Exercise Physiology and Physiotherapy help me?

Achieving the Same Outcome: Acute Lower Back Pain

Accredited Exercise Physiologist Perspective:

Now, picture approaching the same scenario from the perspective of an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. They would delve into a comprehensive assessment, not just focusing on the immediate pain but understanding your overall health and potential contributing issues. Collaborating with you and your goals they will prescribe an exercise program specific to your needs. integrating movements to enhance flexibility, strengthen muscles, and improve overall body mechanics. Guided by evidence-based interventions, their goal is to not only alleviate your acute back pain but also instill habits that prevent re-injury and promote long-term well-being. By customising exercises to your abilities and gradually progressing, they pave the way for a sustainable, pain-free future.

Physiotherapist Perspective:

Imagine you wake up with a sharp twinge in your lower back – a familiar discomfort that’s disrupting your daily activities. As a physiotherapist, their first step would be to conduct a thorough assessment of your musculoskeletal system. They will aim to pinpoint the exact source of your pain, which may involve a diagnosis and design a tailored treatment plan. This might involve joint mobilisation to ease stiffness, targeted exercises to improve joint mobility, and soft tissue massage to alleviate tension. Education plays a crucial role too – empowering you with knowledge on posture, movement patterns, and preventive measures to ensure lasting relief.

Collaborative Care: Post-Stroke Rehabilitation

Physiotherapist Perspective:

Picture this – a loved one has experienced a stroke, and the journey to recovery is daunting. As a physiotherapist, their focus is on immediate rehabilitation. they’ll work closely with you to regain mobility for transfers, address muscle weakness to get out of your chair, and improve balance for daily ambulation. Through targeted exercises and hands-on techniques, they’ll navigate the challenges, ensuring each visit is tailored to your evolving needs. their expertise lies in restoring functional movement and independence, allowing you to reclaim control over your body and rebuild your life after a stroke.

Accredited Exercise Physiologist Perspective:

In tandem with the physiotherapist, their role in post-stroke rehabilitation is to amplify the impact of exercise on your recovery journey. By integrating evidence-based exercise interventions, they’ll focus on enhancing cardiovascular health to help with your walks, muscle strength to climb your stairs, and overall physical function. The collaborative approach ensures a seamless transition between the immediate recovery phase and ongoing rehabilitation. Together, Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists create a holistic plan that not only addresses the physical aspects of recovery but also considers the broader picture of your health and well-being.

Two Paths, One Goal

Physiotherapists and Accredited Exercise Physiologists stand as distinct yet harmonious professions, each contributing to the shared goal of optimising individual health and well-being.

Despite their differences, these allied health professionals intersect in their commitment to empowering individuals through diverse health challenges.

It’s so common as an Exercise Physiologist to hear from our clients “aren’t you a physio?” And no, we don’t take offence, as we know both professions can provide the same value and standard of care for many Australians.

While we are obviously big advocates for Exercise Physiology and “movement as medicine”. The ability for an individual to have so much choice with their path towards recovery is truly a testament to the ideal framework of patient centred care.

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