What’s the difference between Exercise Physiology and Physiotherapy?

With the begin of the new year, The Physio Connex team welcomes its newest member, Scott Howard. Apart from being an all-round nice guy, Scott is the brains-trust of all things exercise due to his dual qualification, as not only a Physiotherapist but an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) as well.

“But what’s the difference?”, I hear you ask.

Exercise and Sport Science Australia (ESSA) explain that: AEPs are university qualified allied health professionals equipped with the knowledge, skills and competencies to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise interventions for people living with, or at risk of developing, chronic medical conditions, injuries or disabilities. They also provide health modification counselling with a strong focus on achieving behavioral change. Some examples of the conditions covered by the services of AEPs include cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, cancer, kidney, respiratory/ pulmonary and mental health, as well as any other conditions for which there is evidence that exercise can improve the client’s clinical status.

“So they’re basically a personal trainer, right?”… WRONG!

To gain AEP accreditation with ESSA an individual must:

  • Graduate from a minimum of 4 years of study in an ESSA accredited course
  • Meet the professional standards for exercise science, leading to accreditation as an Accredited Exercise Scientist (AES), including 140 hours of practical experience for the purpose of undertaking an exercise intervention to improve health and fitness, wellbeing or performance, or focus on prevention of chronic conditions
  • Meet the professional standards for exercise physiology, including 360 hours of practical experience with clients with clinical conditions (eg. cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, musculoskeletal, neurological)
  • AEPs are dual accredited, as exercise scientists first, then exercise physiologist after that

“So with all that study they are basically Physios anyway…”. Not quite.

Physiotherapy uses a whole range of techniques and skills, as well as exercise to effect change on people’s function, pain and fitness. These can include taping, dry needling, electrophysical agents, prescribing and making splints, braces and casts.

Both professionals are found in places like hospitals, GP clinics, elite sporting teams at the local and international level and at private practices near you. They work together well to get the quickest and most thorough change for the individual’s problem, whether that be a humble rolled ankle all the way through to cancer or a stroke.

Services delivered by an AEP may be claimable under compensable schemes such as Medicare and are covered by most private health insurers. So give Exercise Physiology a try, to get you moving, feeling and living better.


Written by Andrew Alexander (Musculoskeletal Titled Physiotherapist) and Scott Howard (Physiotherapist and Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

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