Physiotherapy versus exercise physiology services: while they may sound similar, they are actually very different. More importantly, they can support you in different ways!
Many of our participants see a Physiotherapist near them when their particular health circumstance means that it may be more appropriate for them to be seeking treatment from an NDIS-registered Exercise Physiologist instead.
So how do you know when you should be using an Exercise Physiologist? What exactly do they do, and how does their service differ from that of a Physiotherapist?
We asked one of our Senior Exercise Physiologists, Tayla Dinuccio, to provide a breakdown of the main differences between these two allied health professions so that you can make a more informed choice that suits your individual needs.
Exercise is the main treatment in Exercise Physiology services
Accredited Exercise Physiologists – so called because they must be accredited with Exercise and Sports Science Australia in order to practice – are exercise specialists.
We prescribe exercise to help manage a person’s disability, medical condition or injury, based on the participant’s goals, ability, and exercise preferences.
The goal is to use exercise as medicine – we prescribe clinical exercise programs to increase a person’s functional capacities and quality of life, with a focus on chronic disease management.
In contrast, Physiotherapists use mainly hands-on treatment methods, such as joint and soft tissue mobilisation, joint manipulation, and massage, often in the acute or early stages of an illness or injury. Unlike Exercise Physiologists, they also prescribe gait aids and mobility devices.
Greater knowledge about exercise
The entire four-year university degree (often four-and-a-half or five years if doing a Bachelor degree followed by a Master degree) of an Exercise Physiologist is dedicated to learning about exercise as medicine. As such, we have a far greater level of knowledge than other allied health professionals about the human body and the benefits of exercise, particularly in relation to chronic health conditions.
Chronic conditions include cancers, and cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, kidney, respiratory/pulmonary and mental health conditions. Autism is a good example – as this is a lifelong condition and requires ongoing management, when there are NDIS goals based around health, wellbeing and exercise, EPs are best suited to working with people living with this condition as we specialise in long-term rehabilitation.
Exercise Physiologists also provide lifestyle education and modification programs to support people with chronic health conditions. Exrecise physiology services can include health and physical activity education, advice and support with a strong focus on achieving behavioural change.
In comparison, the training of a Physiotherapist has more of a focus on providing a diagnosis and a prognosis for a condition, and the short-term reduction of symptoms.
When is it better to see an Exercise Physiologist?
When it comes to physical conditions, many participants assume physio is their best bet. Many times however, exercise physiology services can actually help them too. One of our senior Exercise Physiologists (EPs, for short) put together some examples below to explain when exercise physiologist services might be more appropriate for your particular health condition.
Diagnosis: Schizophrenia, PTSD, obesity, high blood pressure
Goals: to increase overall fitness levels; improve mental wellbeing and adopt a healthy coping strategy; reduce body weight; and manage high blood pressure.
Why EP? EPs have the training to prescribe exercise and provide lifestyle education to people living with mental health conditions, and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure. We have a greater understanding of how exercise prescription interacts with mental health medications/symptoms. EPs also have the skills to address low motivation often associated with mental health conditions.
Diagnosis: Autism, overweight, anxiety, delayed motor skill development
Goals: to increase strength, endurance and balance so the child can keep up with their peers; improve age-appropriate motor skills such as playing sport; decrease weight; provide movement program as a strategy to improve sensory regulation.
Why EP? We are experts in prescribing movement-based programs to children, adolescents and adults living with neurodevelopmental disorders. We adopt a far more creative approach when prescribing exercises and will often focus intervention on fun activities that ensure higher engagement. As autism is a lifelong condition and requires ongoing management, EPs are best suited to work with this population as we specialise in long-term rehabilitation.
EPs also have far more advanced skills when it comes to prescribing the correct intensity/duration/type/frequency of exercise. As people living with autism spectrum disorder present at all different levels of fitness/function, this advanced knowledge and flexibility is very advantageous.
Diagnosis: Acquired brain injury (35 years ago), left-sided weakness, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes
Goals: increase lower limb strength/endurance/balance; decrease fatigue; improve mobility and independence around home and in community
Why EP? While this participant worked with a Physiotherapist in the acute phase after they sustained their brain injury, once she was stabilised and returned home, she commenced with an EP for long-term management. EPs are experts at progressing exercises to make them more challenging and have a greater knowledge bank of exercises to prescribe. We can also provide in-depth education about fatigue management strategies and provide education about diabetes management and how this can be impacted by the exercises we choose (greater knowledge on pathophysiology and how exercise impacts on muscles/organs). The participant also wants to access a community gym and have a gym program developed. Many EPs have experience working in gym environments, thus are suitable for prescribing gym-based programs.
Talk to us about exercise physiology
If you are looking to exercise for the first time, or start again after a long time, you should visit an Exercise Physiologist to ensure you are choosing the right type of exercise for your body and health.
All our Exercise Physiologists are registered NDIS providers with experience providing services and support to people living with disability.
If you have funds in your NDIS plan allocated to Improved Daily Living Skills or Improved Health and Wellbeing, you can most likely access Exercise Physiology services.