Physiotherapy vs Exercise Physiology: The Difference Explained

Physiotherapy vs Exercise Physiology: The Difference Explained

Written by Mitchell Robinson

Information on each - Sycamore offer both, can work together to achieve great results

There are many similarities between exercise physiologists (EPs) and physiotherapists. Both professional groups:

  • Complete 4 years of university training covering subjects like anatomy, physiology and biomechanics
  • Complete practical placements and assessments
  • Are recognised by Medicare, private health funds, TAC and WorkCover
  • Are required to complete a certain amount of professional development each year to maintain their accreditation.

But there are differences too. For example, if you’ve injured yourself, you’ll need to see a physiotherapist early on but may progress to seeing an exercise physiologist later to minimise the risk of a repeat injury.

What is exercise physiology?

Accredited exercise physiologists are university-trained health professionals who help you reap the health benefits of exercise.

Are all exercise physiologists fitness freaks?

Well, yeah, kinda. But not in a pushy way. They know that some people struggle to get into the habit of exercise and haven’t yet found a form of physical activity that suits them.

Exercise physiologists get a kick out of helping you fall slowly in love with moving your body.

They want you to experience the benefits of regular exercise, such as:

  • More energy
  • A jollier mood
  • Better sleep
  • More fun between the sheets
  • Managing your weight
  • Preventing or managing a raft of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, arthritis, anxiety or falls risk.

What does an exercise physiologist do?

They offer various services such as:

  • Assessing your health and fitness
  • Behavioural coaching
  • Health education
  • Exercise counselling, such as:
  • Prescribing tailored exercise programs
  • Showing you how to build more incidental activity into your daily life
  • Encouraging active leisure time
  • Physical rehabilitation.

What's the difference between a physiotherapist and an exercise physiologist?

As the name suggests, exercise physiologists focus on the exercise aspects of your healthcare.

Physiotherapists are also university-trained health professionals but they have a broader remit. If you’ve got a musculoskeletal, cardiothoracic or neurological condition, then a physiotherapist can assess, diagnose, plan and manage your care by:

  • Helping you modify your lifestyle
  • Providing self-management advice
  • Prescribing aids and appliances
  • Prescribing carefully chosen exercises to address areas of vulnerability
  • Assess occupational health.

In addition, physiotherapists can help you recover from injury and reduce the risk of it happening again.

Do I need an exercise physiologist or a physiotherapist?

Good question. There can be overlap between the two and they tend to work closely together but if you’re wondering who you should see first, then talk to your GP or ask yourself these questions. 

See a physio if you have:

  • New, unexpected pain with no known cause as of yet
  • A very recent injury
  • Recently had orthopaedic surgery
  • Need hands-on treatment like acupuncture, massage, manipulation or mobilisation to relieve your pain or other symptoms. 

See an EP if you:

  • Are trying not to exacerbate a prior injury
  • Want to get fitter, stronger and healthier
  • Have a chronic condition that could be helped by exercise (most of them can be)
  • Want to lose weight or prevent weight gain
  • Want a personalised exercise plan to help improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Which is better? Exercise physiology or physiotherapy?

It depends on your needs, really. But you don’t actually have to choose – exercise physiologists and physiotherapists often work together as part of a multidisciplinary team.

That’s how we do things at Sycamore.

Our physiotherapist assesses you, diagnoses your condition and plans and monitors your care, which may include referral to our exercise physiologists. Our EP then works closely with you, coaching you into healthier habits and helping you become more comfortable with exercise. And they both talk to each other to ensure they’re on the same page and not overwhelming you with too much to do too quickly.

So, separately, both physio's and EPs are good. But if you want the best, then get them working together. 

How can Sycamore Health help?

As a Sycamore Health patient, you benefit from multidisciplinary care within the same practice.

Our medical team, physiotherapist and exercise physiologist all work together as a powerful catalyst for improving your health and fitness. Their close working relationship saves you the hassle of repeating the same information to different people over and over again. It means you have a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals under one roof all dedicated to helping you live your best life.

So, if you’d like holistic care from a great team, please book an appointment. Let’s get started together today.



All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.

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