Athletic Therapy vs. Physiotherapy: Is there a difference?

In the world of healthcare professionals, it can get confusing as to what each one specializes in and what kind of treatment you may receive from them. The two most common distinct healthcare professions that are confused with each other are Athletic Therapy and Physiotherapy. Both are trained in musculoskeletal rehabilitation and assessment, and have a few differences.

Athletic therapists are focused solely on musculoskeletal disorders and injuries, and can be found working in a clinic setting or with a team. Meanwhile, physiotherapists have a wider scope of practice which encompasses neurological and cardiovascular health issues as well as musculoskeletal, and can be found working both the hospital setting and in outpatient clinics. Both professions will complete a thorough assessment of your injury, and provide education, complete manual therapy techniques and provide therapeutic exercises for you to complete at home. They will help manage both acute and chronic injuries, all the while maintaining a high professional standard of care for all of their patients.

You do not need a referral from a doctor to see either an AT or physio, however you should always check with your extended healthcare provider to see if you are covered, as different providers cover different therapies.

Shared skills and knowledge of each profession:Shared treatment approaches of each profession:
1) Assessment and diagnosis of injuries
2) Treat sport injuries, work injuries, MVA’s, and life injuries
3) Rehabilitation and exercise programs are included with the treatment plan of all injuries
4) Educate patients in management of acute and chronic injuries
1) Soft tissue manipulation and joint mobilizations
2) Preventative taping and
Electrotherapy training (NMES, TENS, IFC, ultrasound, heat and ice, etc)
3) Exercise prescription (strength, flexibility, mobility, and proprioception)
4) Biomechanics analysis
5) Patient Education

Athletic Therapy

Athletic Therapists are experts in musculoskeletal disorders and injuries. This is accomplished after a highly demanding 4 year program, at an applicable university, to achieve a degree of Bachelor of Applied Health Sciences. This program focuses primarily on rehabilitation, assessment, prevention and restoring of the musculoskeletal system through maintaining and maximizing the bodies movement to relieve pain and increase your quality of life. Following this program there is an intense national certification exam of a written and practical that must be passed in order to work in Canada as a Certified Athletic Therapist. They are typically found working in a clinical setting or with a sports team in a field setting providing emergency care.

It is very common to have the name give a false representation of who they can treat. They do specialize in athletes as the name provides, but they are also trained in MVA’s (motor vehicle accidents), work injuries (the industrial athlete), post-operation, and everyday aches and pains.

The regulating body of the profession is the Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (CATA) and each province across Canada has a provincial chapter as well.

The definition of the profession provided by the national association is as follows:

“Certified Athletic Therapists are best known for their quick-thinking on-field emergency care of professional and elite athletes. The first to respond when someone gets hurt, they are experts at injury assessment and rehabilitation. It’s that same mix of on-site care and active rehabilitation skills that makes Athletic Therapists so effective in treating the musculoskeletal (muscles, bones, and joints) injuries of all Canadians, whether on the field or in the clinic.

Athletic therapists adhere to the Sports Medicine Model of care. They treat a wide range of patients, from kids with concussions to seniors recovering from hip replacement surgery, using various manual therapies, modalities, exercise prescription and even bracing and taping. The treatment varies but the objective doesn’t: an Athletic Therapist’s goal is to help clients return to their usual activities, whether that means playing competitive sports or walking to the mailbox and back.”

More information can be found on their website: https://athletictherapy.org/en.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists help restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability. They accomplish this through movement and exercise, manual therapy, and patient education. Physiotherapist’s in Canada complete a 4 year undergrad and then proceed into a 2 year masters of Physiotherapy, followed by an intense certification exam. Their formal education focuses on the study of neurology, cardiorespiratory and orthopaedics.

They are typically found working in private clinics, hospitals, retirement residences and child development centres. Physiotherapists in Canada work with clients of all ages and with a wide range of health conditions. Physiotherapists tend to specialize in a certain area of practice, which can include working with patients who have had strokes or other neurological injuries, paediatrics, women’s health, oncology rehab, in intensive care units and other inpatient settings as well as common musculoskeletal injuries.

The definition of Physiotherapy from the Canadian Physiotherapy Association:

“The heart of the physiotherapy profession is understanding how and why movement and function take place. Physiotherapists are highly skilled and autonomous health professionals who provide safe, quality client-centred physiotherapy through a commitment to service availability, accessibility and excellence. The profession is shaped by scientific evidence and the education and competencies of the physiotherapists delivering the services. Physiotherapy is grounded in the belief that, to be effective, its services must respond to the changing needs of populations and our health system.”

More information can be found at their website: https://physiotherapy.ca/description-physiotherapy. Here you can find a document on the detailed description of Physiotherapy.

Summary

With a few small differences in the two professions, both are a great resource for injury prevention, treatment and education. The largest difference is the scope of practice of a physiotherapist includes cardiovascular and neurological training along with the ability to pierce the skin through extra training in IMS (intermuscular stimulation) and acupuncture, which is not included in the scope of practice of an Athletic Therapist. However, both are experts in helping you recover from your injuries and getting you back to doing what you love!

One thought on “Athletic Therapy vs. Physiotherapy: Is there a difference?

  1. Pingback: How to become an Athletic Therapist | LEW's Life

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