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What is the difference between a Physio and Exercise Physiologist?


Here in the clinic, we are regularly asked this question, so I thought we could try and tackle it here and provide some clarity on the situation.

Distinguishing between a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist can be quite difficult, as the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Both Exercise Physiologists and physiotherapists can work within a broad scope of practice, and so it is only natural that confusion exists.

The Difference?

A Physiotherapist is a university trained professional that is part of the “Allied Health” group. Generally, Physiotherapists are specialists in the area of treating acute musculoskeletal disorders. Physiotherapists are known to use a variety of methods such as acupuncture, massage, joint mobilisation, manipulation and rehab exercises.

Exercise Physiology is a relatively new profession in comparison. Also University trained and part of the Allied Health group, Exercise Physiologists, sometimes referred to as EPs, utilise graded, evidence based movement and exercise intervention for musculoskeletal injury and chronic disease prevention and management. Working in Public and Private Health, EPs will also address lifestyle and behaviour modification, considering the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of your circumstance such that both can be treated to prevent future recurrence. In other words, EP’s will aim to find and treat the cause of your problem rather than just treating the symptoms to make you feel good (Passive therapists, I’m looking at you). 

Length of Tertiary Study?

To extend the similarities, both professions undertake 4 years of university training, studying subjects such as anatomy, physiology, cardiopulmonary function, nervous system function and biomechanics. Both professions are recognised by Medicare and private health funds, requiring yearly professional development to maintain accreditation. However, Exercise Physiologists undergo 4 years of study around injuries and conditions and the best exercises to treat it. Whereas a Physiotherapist degree will only include a small component of exercise prescription. So while physiotherapy and exercise physiology are often confused, the fact is, both share a common goal; facilitating improved physiological functioning. We just go about it in different ways. Therefore, if you have just suffered an injury and need your symptoms settled, a Physio may be the best choice. However, if your injury or condition is greater than a few weeks old and you need exercises as part of your rehabilitation, an Exercise Physiologist would be the best choice for you as they specialise in exercise therapy.  

Great, we’ve cleared up the confusion surrounding the two professions. 

If you think you would benefit from seeing an Exercise Physiologist but want to know more, send an email to (with a best time to contact you) and we will personally call you to discuss!

Click HERE to make an Online Booking now!

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  1. Ray Cao says:

    Thanks. A useful summary of the difference between the professions.

  2. Thanks for helping me understand more about physiology. Lately, I’ve noticed that my grandpa’s neurological illness has gotten worse. With that, I am thinking of a medication that involves exercise. However, I am not sure what specific treatment I must choose. It’s good to know that in exercise physiology, it helps in assessing and treating the cause not just the symptoms.

  3. Toby Ryan says:

    I like that you mentioned how exercise physiologists typically spend four years in order to get the education they need to treat various conditions. My uncle has been having trouble maintaining his balance ever since he got into a car accident on his way home from work last weekend, and I’d like to find a way to help him recover so that he can attend work next month. He should find a professional that can help him better understand how to approach his problem.

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