Athletic Therapy Vs. Physiotherapy: Is There a Difference?

Confused about the difference between athletic therapists and physiotherapists? Let's clear that up. 

Athletic therapists focus on musculoskeletal disorders –your go-to for muscle and bone issues. Physiotherapists have a wider lens, tackling musculoskeletal problems and neurological and cardiovascular conditions.

Both prioritize injury prevention, expert assessments, and managing everything from sudden injuries to long-term conditions. They're committed to high professional standards. 

If you're looking to understand which one might be right for your health needs, read on. We're about to break down their roles.

A Word On Athletic Therapy

Have you seen a sports game where someone gets injured? Who rushes out first? That's usually an athletic therapist with experience working with clients in a Sports Medicine Clinic.

While these professionals often provide immediate assistance during sporting events, their role goes beyond just emergency care. They're highly trained in treating and preventing musculoskeletal injuries, making them a valuable asset for athletes and active individuals.


Becoming an sports physiotherapist involves a solid educational foundation, including a bachelor's degree, followed by a specialized program in athletic therapy, and culminating in a certification exam. This comprehensive training ensures they are well-equipped to handle a wide range of physical injuries.

Work Settings

Athletic therapists often work in various settings, such as sports clinics or sports teams, collaborating closely with other healthcare professionals. This collaborative environment helps them provide well-rounded care to their clients.

In some places, like Ontario, they are registered and regulated, adding professional credibility to their practice.

Insurance Coverage

Coverage for athletic therapy is less consistent across insurance plans compared to physiotherapy. Athletic therapists also receive physician referrals, but patients should verify their specific insurance policies for coverage details. When covered, athletic therapy offers an alternative or complementary treatment, particularly for sports-related injuries.

Who Needs Athletic Therapy?

Athletic therapists are mainly known for treating injuries in athletes, but their expertise extends much further. They're skilled in addressing various conditions, including 

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Issues that require pre- or post-surgical care
  • Workplace injuries

And What About Physiotherapy?

It's often mixed up with athletic therapy, but they're not quite the same. Physiotherapists are the experts you see for a wide range of injuries and conditions affecting your muscles and bones. They use hands-on therapy, various treatment techniques, and exercise plans tailored just for you.

The main aim of a physiotherapist is to get you moving better, feeling stronger, and maximizing your body's ability to heal and function well. It's like helping your body help itself, getting you back on track, often even better than before.

Physiotherapy is not just any healthcare profession; it's about rehabilitation and recovery. These experts have a broad knowledge base, treating everything from sports injuries to neurological disorders, like stroke rehab, and even specialized areas like pediatrics and burn patient care.

Physiotherapists are the go-to for physical therapy related to musculoskeletal injuries. They're all about helping you recover from bone or muscle injuries, focusing on getting your body back in shape and working as it should.

And that's not all. Physiotherapists can also have specialties in areas like stress management, pelvic floor therapy, helping car accident victims, or dealing with chronic injuries. They're versatile and equipped to handle various physical health challenges.


To become a physiotherapist in Canada, there's a path to follow. First, you need a bachelor's degree, then dive into a master's program in physiotherapy. Plus, there's an exam to pass before you can start practicing.

Work Settings

Physiotherapists find diverse work environments, each shaping their practice distinctly. Hospitals are a primary workplace where they aid in patient recovery, focusing on post-surgical rehabilitation and assisting those recovering from injuries or illnesses. Their role is integral in helping patients regain mobility and independence.

In clinics, physiotherapists encounter a varied clientele. They address everything from sports-related injuries to chronic pain management, developing tailored treatment plans. This setting allows for building ongoing client relationships and tracking progress over time.

Retirement homes also offer a unique work setting. Here, physiotherapists help elderly residents maintain or improve their mobility and balance, significantly enhancing their daily living and prolonging their independence.

Insurance Coverage

Insurance plans commonly cover physiotherapy, which is recognized widely for its medical and rehabilitative benefits. Coverage typically requires a physician's referral, and the extent of coverage varies by policy. This widespread acceptance makes physiotherapy an accessible treatment option for many.

Who Needs Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy offers benefits for a variety of conditions and situations, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sprains and strains
  • Pre- and post-surgery rehab
  • Back and neck pain
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Concussions
  • Whiplash
  • Neuromuscular disorders

It's important to note that physiotherapy isn't just for those injured or recovering from surgery. It's also beneficial for:

  • Fitness Improvement: Enhancing overall physical fitness and performance.
  • General Daily Function: Boosting functional abilities for everyday activities.

What To Expect During Your First Visit

In a physiotherapy appointment, expect your therapist to review your medical history, evaluate and diagnose your issue, recommend exercises, possibly suggest assistive devices, and educate you about your condition. 

In athletic therapy sessions, be aware that there might be some side effects, such as increased symptoms of existing conditions, persistent pain, minimal improvements in flexibility, mobility, and strength, or changes in metabolism, heart rate, or blood pressure.

Both types of therapy focus on developing a personalized treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. 

Your pysiotherapist aims to establish goals with you and monitor your progress during your treatment journey. The number of sessions needed can vary based on the severity of your condition. 

Follow-up appointments are part of the process, allowing your therapist to track your recovery and modify your treatment plan.

The Verdict: Physiotherapy vs Athletic Therapy

Physiotherapists and athletic therapists often collaborate, with both professions centring their approach around the patient and focusing on rehabilitation techniques.

The key distinction between the two lies in their areas of specialization. Physiotherapists generally deal with a broader range of issues, encompassing musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and cardiovascular problems. 

On the other hand, athletic therapists primarily concentrate on musculoskeletal issues and are adept at providing immediate emergency care in sports settings.

If you're weighing the options between Physiotherapy and Athletic Therapy and find that your insurance doesn't cover Athletic Therapy, don't worry. We can assist.

At the Centre for Health and Performance, one of the city's premier sports clinics, our team of Physiotherapists is adept and seasoned in handling athletic injuries. We boast a Sports Physiotherapist and a Physiotherapist who has specialized training in Athletic Therapy and Physiotherapy. We're committed to providing expert care tailored to your specific needs.


The Sport Medicine Council of Manitoba Newsletter. Physiotherapy vs Athletic Therapy – What is the Difference. Accessed on: 03 December, 2023.

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