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Athletic Therapy & Physiotherapy: What's the Difference?

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Every athletic therapist has answered it at least once before, what is the difference between Athletic Therapy and Physiotherapy?

While these professions have many similarities, there are some key differences that at times leaves them better suited for some populations over others.

Education

Lets take a look first at education, as not only is this where it all begins, but also this is where the biggest differences between the two professions are found.

Athletic Therapy Program

In Canada, there are 8 accredited post-secondary athletic therapy programs; to become be able to use the designation of Certified Athletic Therapist, one has to complete one of these programs, and pass a subsequent national certification exam overseen by the Canadian Athletic Therapy Association. These programs range from 2 year post-bachelor certificate programs to 5 year bachelor degree programs.

Regardless of which program you do, courses are focused on prevention, assessment, management, and rehabilitation of orthopedic injury. Placements during school will always include clinical placement as well as at least one placement with a sports team, learning to provide on field injury assessment and management, and pre-game/practice prep. In order to pass in each program as well as to write the NCE, candidates must certify as a First Responder; Certified Athletic Therapists must maintain CPR-BLS certification.

An AT's goal is to get the athlete back to their pre-injury performance level or better, in order to mitigate the risk of re-injury and promote longevity of their career.

Physiotherapists will complete a 2 year masters degree program at one of 15 offering universities in Canada, prior to completing a two part competency exam. Once both exams have been passed, the physiotherapy candidate can then register with their provincial college and use the designations of physiotherapist or physical therapist. In their programs, physiotherapy students will learn the basics orthopedic rehab, neurological rehab, and cardiorespiratory rehab, resulting in a broader scope of practice. Many physiotherapists will take continuing education courses in order to specialize their practice into one of these domains.

Treatment

Treatment in a clinic for an orthopedic injury by either an AT or PT will look similar. Both will utilize manual therapy, electrical modalities, and exercise therapy to help you achieve your goals.

athletic therapy

Due to their specialization in orthopaedic injury and first response training, athletic therapists or (specifically designated) sport physiotherapists are best suited to support an athlete or an individual with an active job or lifestyle to rehab their injury or work with a sports team. Click here to learn more about athletic therapy.

Individuals recovering from surgeries, cardiovascular events, or cardiorespiratory illness would be more likely to benefit from working with a physiotherapist.


Both athletic therapists and physiotherapists are able to work with individuals for neurological rehab, including concussion, traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury.

Questions? Leave a comment below! Or contact me here to determine what course of treatment would be best for you.

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