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Who's Who?! - Physiotherapy vs. Exercise Physiology vs. Strength and Conditioning

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

What is the difference between a Physiotherapist, Exercise Physiologist and Strength and Conditioning Coach? Well firstly, that is a common and very relevant question to ask!

It’s true, these three professions have a lot of crossover and can all be instrumental in helping people improve their health, wellbeing and performance. Knowing who to see for what can be tricky. Hopefully, this blog will make things a little clearer.

Firstly, let’s look at how these three services are similar.

Similarities

Physiotherapists, Exercise Physiologists and Strength & Conditioning coaches are all qualified with University degrees of varying lengths and are accredited by their respective governing bodies. Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists undertake more clinical training, while Strength & Conditioning Coaches have usually completed placements in sporting organisations and typically work with people who (aside from rehabilitating injury) are otherwise apparently healthy.

All of these professionals work together and as part of a multidisciplinary team to help you achieve the best outcomes whilst treating you and your given circumstances individually. This can be through educating and empowering you to take control of your rehabilitation, enabling you to self-manage your condition to improve your wellbeing and quality of life, promoting strength, resilience and adaptability and finally, by forming the basis of a support network.

Differences

Now we know how they overlap, let’s begin to break down how they differ and why one clinician might be more appropriate for you to than another.

Physiotherapy can include hands-on treatment, sometimes called manual therapy, exercise prescription, the provision of aids and appliances like boots, crutches and wheelchairs when necessary and dry needling. A Physiotherapist can diagnose an injury, help with pain management, restore range of motion and strength, facilitate behaviour change and provide onward referral for further investigation or additional services if it is necessary.

Some examples of when you may see a Physiotherapist are immediately after having a surgical procedure, if you have a ligament or muscle tear, if you experience neck or back pain or if you have pelvic floor concerns.

On the other hand, Clinical Exercise Physiology will include hands-off treatment, which is movement based in nature. Exercise Physiologists support the prevention, management and treatment of chronic diseases and/or injury by enhancing physiological function. They specialise in exercise prescription and programming, helping address movement or strength deficits and assist with any necessary behaviour change, promoting longevity.

There are many long-term conditions that discourage people from regular exercise, which can in fact support their condition. For example, you may see an Exercise Physiologist if you have diabetes, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain or high blood pressure.

Finally, we come to Strength & Conditioning coaches. Strength and Conditioning is also movement and exercise based. Coaches are highly skilled in exercise programming and delivery particularly for the late and end stages of your rehabilitation that might involve returning to a specific sport or preparing for an athletic event where there is a large focus on performance. In saying that, Strength and Conditioning coaches can also work with people who aren’t so focused on athletic performance and want to be fit and strong for everyday life!

Ultimately, there is a large amount of crossover between all three professions. One is no more important than the other and in fact, in a well-rounded health or rehabilitation plan, will include all three services.

Hopefully this has helped to clarify these three services for you! I know that one blog won’t answer all the questions you might have so to conclude, here are a selection of examples and who you might start with:

  • You have just had a hip or knee replacement - Physiotherapist

  • You are experiencing ongoing lower back pain - Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist

  • You are training for an upcoming triathlon - Exercise Physiologist or Strength & Conditioning coach

  • You have injured your ankle playing netball - Physiotherapist

  • You would like to lose weight or build muscle mass - Exercise Physiologist or Strength & Conditioning Coach

  • You are undergoing cancer treatment - Exercise Physiologist

  • You have previously had a stroke or cardiac event - Exercise Physiologist

  • You have knee pain when running - Physiotherapist


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