Physical Therapy vs. Exercise Physiology: What’s the Difference?

Exercise physiology and physical therapy both use exercise and physical movement to improve the condition of patients suffering from diseases or injuries. While physical therapy focuses on restoring movement to the restricted parts of the body, exercise physiology seeks to relieve symptoms through the cellular effect of exercise on the body.

Exercise physiology is a branch of health care that studies the biological effect of exercise on the bodys cells and organs. The practice of exercise physiology seeks to prevent chronic diseases or to provide health benefits to those suffering from disease. Exercise physiology treats diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Physical therapy uses techniques and exercises to restore movement in patients suffering from injuries, disease or aging. A physical therapy treatment plan uses an assessment of the patients functional abilities to develop exercises and treatments that will restore maximum movement. The goal of physical therapy is to improve the quality of life through improved functional abilities and fitness.

Graduate degree programs are available in exercise physiology and physical therapy. Physical therapists must have a minimum of a doctorate in physical therapy, but exercise physiologists may enter the field with a bachelors degree. A graduate program in exercise physiology includes courses in biochemistry, exercise science, sport nutrition, exercise programming for patients with chronic diseases, biomechanics and environmental physiology. Physical therapy programs include courses in anatomy, kinesiology of the extremities, musculoskeletal examination, exercise physiology, orthotics and prosthetics. Physical therapy programs include clinical rotations and some graduates complete an additional residency program after graduation. Certification is available for exercise physiologists from the American Society of Exercise Physiologists.

Exercise Physiology vs Physical Therapy

What is exercise physiology?

Exercise physiology is a type of health care that focuses on using physical fitness to help patients improve the symptoms of their chronic conditions or manage their overall health. Professionals who study exercise physiology learn about the positive effects that exercise can offer various systems or cells in the body, such as the cardiovascular or neurological systems.

Patients in exercise physiology typically have chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, that can benefit from regular and personalized exercise regimes. While many students of exercise physiology become exercise physiologists, others may pursue different career paths as personal trainers, exercise instructors, cardiopulmonary rehab professionals or health care management in the health and fitness industry.

What is physical therapy?

Physical therapy is a type of health care that helps patients recover or learn movement through personalized exercises and strategies. Patients of physical therapy typically have physical disabilities, chronic conditions or injuries that limit their ability to perform daily tasks. Physical therapy can help these patients improve their mobility and increase the quality of their life.

Professionals in the field of physical therapy often specialize in one or more types of physical therapy, such as vestibular or pediatric. Many people who study physical therapy become physical therapists, also called physiotherapists.

Similarities between physical therapy and exercise physiology

Exercise physiology and physical therapy have several commonalities, including:


Professionals in both physical therapy and exercise physiology often share similar duties including:


Exercise physiologists and physical therapists may sometimes work with similar patients. These patients may have serious injuries or disabilities, be elderly or possess underlying medical conditions. A physical therapist or exercise physiologists primary goal is to help their patients improve their ability to perform daily tasks or optimize their overall well-being.

Undergraduate curriculum

Students hoping to enter the field of either exercise physiology or physical therapy often take similar classes in college. These courses typically relate to the functions of the nervous system, potential nervous system problems and ways to remedy them. Specific courses may include kinesiology, neuro-rehabilitation, motor control, physiology and functional anatomy.

Physical therapy vs. exercise physiology

Here are the chief differences between physical therapy versus exercise physiology:


Most professionals in the field of exercise physiology have at least a bachelors degree. Some exercise physiologists may also choose to pursue a masters degree. Students might decide to major in exercise physiology or a related field like kinesiology, sports education or nutrition.

There are more educational requirements for professionals in physical therapy compared to exercise physiology. A physical therapist receives a bachelors degree before earning a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree. Advanced courses for physical therapy students include orthotics, musculoskeletal examination and kinesiology of the extremities. A student of physical therapy also performs clinical rotations as part of their education and eventually applies for a license in their state.

Job duties

While some responsibilities between physical therapists and exercise physiologists are similar, they also have several distinct job duties. Responsibilities that are unique to exercise physiologists include:

Responsibilities that are unique to physical therapists include:

Job options

Students who pursue either exercise physiology or physical therapy can choose from a range of careers. However, the precise job options vary for each field. A student of physical therapy might decide to pursue an entry-level role in a field that doesnt require an advanced degree, such as a physical therapy assistant. Physical therapy professionals may also choose to specialize in a type of physical therapy. Career options in physical therapy include:

Potential careers for students of exercise physiology include:


However, its important to remember that individual salaries for both professions can depend on an array of factors, including geographic location, education and years of experience.


Both exercise physiologists and physical therapists can help their patients optimize their health. However, physical therapists more often work with patients with specific mobility issues, whether those issues relate to surgeries, injuries or disabilities. Exercise physiologists, meanwhile, typically help patients learn how to optimize their quality of life with underlying health conditions that produce physical symptoms, like cardiovascular or lung diseases.

Work environment

A physical therapist often works in a more clinical environment, like a private medical practice or a hospital. Some medical practices may also have jobs available for exercise physiologists. However, an exercise physiologist is more likely to find employment opportunities at fitness facilities like private gyms or athlete training centers.

Career outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for both exercise physiologists and physical therapists are projected to increase through 2030. However, the precise growth rate for these two occupations varies.


An exercise physiologist primarily strives to treat their patients through personalized physical fitness regimes and goals. They may also recommend dietary modifications or self-massage techniques.

Physical therapists use a wider range of techniques to help their patients learn or recover physical mobility, including:

Tips for choosing between physical therapy and exercise physiology careers

Heres some advice for choosing a career in either exercise physiology or physical therapy:

Evaluate your ideal work environment

Think about your preferred work environment. Physical therapists most often work in medical facilities, such as hospitals, private practices or clinics. While an exercise physiologist may also find some employment opportunities in these types of facilities, they may be more likely to find jobs at companies focused on physical fitness or overall well-being, like gyms, professional sports leagues or corporate fitness centers.

If youd rather work in a medical environment, you may want to pursue physical therapy. However, if being in a more athletic environment suits you better, think about studying exercise physiology.

Think about how soon you want to start your career

Consider how much time you want to spend getting an education before beginning your career. Since most exercise physiology positions typically require only a bachelors degree, students who pursue this field can start their careers more quickly.

However, becoming a physical therapist typically takes seven to eight years, as students need both a bachelors and doctorate degrees. Keep in mind, however, that a physical therapists more advanced education can lead them to have a higher earning potential than exercise physiologists.

Consider your preferred field

Think about the differences between these two fields and which one best fits your interests or skills. An exercise physiologist spends more time creating customized physical fitness plans and goals. Physical therapists, meanwhile, focus primarily on helping patients learn or recover specific mobility functions.

If youre excited about the idea of helping patients improve their quality of life through exercise, think about pursuing a career in exercise physiology. If youre more interested in helping patients with disabilities or injuries perform their daily activities with greater independence, consider studying physical therapy.


Is a physiologist a physical therapist?

They both use physical and exercise movements to assist individuals who suffer from fatal injuries or degenerative diseases. Physical therapy is to restore movement. Conversely, exercise physiology aims at relieving symptoms like pain during physical practice.

How would you use exercise physiology as a physical therapist?

Exercise physiologist : An exercise physiologist helps patients with underlying conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, improve their health through exercise. They create unique treatment plans based on both a patient’s fitness goals and medical conditions or needs.

Are kinesiology and exercise physiology the same?

Kinesiology is the study of human movement through the understanding of mechanics, anatomy and physiology. Exercise physiology is concerned with the analysis, improvement and maintenance of the physiological mechanisms underlying health and fitness.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.