Physiotherapist or Sports Therapist?
How to know if you need Physiotherapy or Sports Therapy
We often have clients enquiring whether they need Physiotherapy or Sports Therapy, and which practitioner can offer the most appropriate treatment for their injury. The short answer is that both professions are trained and insured to treat musculoskeletal disorders back but there are some key differences in their training and approach. In this article, we give an overview of the two professions, outlining their similarities and differences to help you identify the most appropriate practitioner to aid you back to optimal fitness.
Both Physiotherapists and Sports Therapists are highly educated in dealing with musculoskeletal disorders, treating pain and injury through hands-on treatment modalities, rehabilitation and patient education. Both focus on restoring, maintaining and maximising movement, relieving pain and increasing quality of life.
Both therapists possess the skills and knowledge to:
- Assess and diagnose injuries
- Deliver a personalised treatment plan to maximise movement and physical independence
- Teach patients how to reduce pain and manage chronic injuries
- Implement rehabilitation programmes
- Teach patients how to stay fit and well
Some of the shared treatment approaches used to aid recovery include:
- Massage, bodywork and mobilisations
- Electrotherapy modalities
- Varied stretching techniques
- Biomechanics analysis
- Patient education
- Exercise prescription
Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to use the title Physiotherapist or Physical Therapist, practitioners must graduate from an approved course of study, typically a three-year degree program, and meet a strict set of criteria set out by the HCPC. For a Physiotherapist to be classified as a Chartered Physiotherapist they must also be a full member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).
The role of the Physiotherapists is to help people affected by injury, illness or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education and advice. They maintain health for people of all ages, helping patients to manage pain and prevent disease. See some of the common conditions that physiotherapists treat here.
At undergraduate level, Physiotherapists gain the knowledge and skills to improve a range of conditions associated with different systems of the body, such as:
- Neurological (e.g. stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s)
- Neuromusculoskeletal (e.g. back pain, whiplash associated disorder, sports injuries, arthritis)
- Cardiovascular (e.g. chronic heart disease, rehabilitation after heart attack)
- Respiratory (e.g. asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis)
After graduation, Physiotherapists continue their professional development and work in a variety of specialisms in health and social care. Additionally, some physiotherapists are involved in education, research and service management.
Sports therapists are experts in musculoskeletal disorders. They treat pain and injury through hands-on treatment and rehabilitation. Sports Therapists undergo an intensive three-year degree course which focusses primarily on the musculoskeletal system and on restoring, maintaining and maximising movement to relieve pain and increase quality of life.
The regulating body of Sports Therapy is The Society of Sports Therapists (SST), who describes the profession as:
“An aspect of healthcare that is specifically concerned with the prevention of injury and the rehabilitation of the patient back to optimum levels of functional, occupational and sports specific fitness, regardless of age and ability. It utilises the principles of sport and exercise sciences incorporating physiological and pathological processes to prepare the participant for training, competition and where applicable, work.”
The Key Differences
As we have examined, the two professions share many similarities and overlap in their treatment programmes which leads to patients being unsure whether they would be best suited to physiotherapy or sports therapy. However, there are some key differences:
- Physiotherapists have a broader knowledge base and medical background, which allows them to treat illnesses, diseases, neurological and respiratory issues. This makes them ideal for treating a wide range of patients, including complex patients with multiple conditions.
- Sports therapists generally have more exposure to sporting environments at an undergraduate level making them ideal for preventing sports injuries through specific strengthening programmes.
- Physiotherapy attempts to rehabilitate patients to allow them to feel comfortable and cope in their day-to-day life, whereas Sports therapy, on the other hand, focuses more on whether that the patient has returned to or can maintain the required physical level for whatever sporting activity they would like to carry out.
- As Sports therapists focus solely on musculoskeletal rehabilitation and have a sports-focused background, it makes them attractive to patients who are aiming to return to exercise.
It is important to remember that these are generalisations about the two professions and that it often isn’t a straight choice between physiotherapy or sports therapy. Many Physiotherapists specialise in sports rehabilitation and many Sports Therapists have experience in other areas of rehabilitation.