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Diabetes Qualified

Should your client see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist?

Should your client see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist?

By Hayley Nicholson, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Credentialled Diabetes Educator

While there are skills that overlap between exercise physiology and physiotherapy, they are not the same. If, for example, your client is experiencing pain when exercising should you refer them to an accredited exercise physiologist or a physiotherapist?

Accredited Exercise Physiologist

Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) complete a four-year bachelor degree or masters program and are required to maintain their accreditation with Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) through continual professional development. AEPs work across a range of health settings, including hospitals, private clinics, government and not-for-profit organisations, workplace rehabilitation, aged care facilities and fitness and sports centers.

An AEP is an exercise professional that designs, delivers and evaluates safe and effective exercise interventions for people living with acute and chronic conditions, including diabetes. AEPs work particularly with people living with cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, cancer, kidney, respiratory and mental health conditions. If your client is living with chronic pain and discomfort or wants to improve their overall strength, endurance, flexibility, balance and function, an AEP is a great addition to their health care team. They will help develop an understanding about the impact of exercise on blood glucose levels.

Exercise physiologists specialise in integrating exercise and physical activity principles in disease prevention, health, rehabilitation and sports performance. They are also commonly involved in injury case management services, and occupational/workplace injury risk assessment. The prime treatment modalities of an AEP is exercise prescription, health education and lifestyle modification. That is, they do not provide invasive services like massage, joint manipulation, dry needling, or diagnosis of any conditions. An AEP is the first port of call for someone looking to improve their overall health and wellbeing, balance, flexibility, strength, aerobic fitness or sports performance.

You can find an AEP in your local area via https://www.essa.org.au/Public/Public/Searches/find-aep-withdistance.aspx


Physiotherapists complete a four-year bachelor degree, masters or doctorate program, must be registered under the Physiotherapy Board of Australia, and maintain continual professional development as a member of the Australian Physiotherapy Association. Physiotherapists can be found working in hospitals, private practices, community health centres, aged care facilities and sporting organisations.

Physiotherapists treat a broad range of musculoskeletal, cardiothoracic and neurological conditions, as well as other chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, disability and pelvic floor issues. They also work in the specialised areas of gerontology, emergency and palliative care. Physiotherapists are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, planning and management of patient care, and they design individual programs that help address risk factors arising from co-morbidities and physical limitations.

A physiotherapist can assist a client in acute recovery from injury. If your client has recently undergone orthopedic surgery, they are likely to be referred to a physiotherapist as part of their inpatient care. Physiotherapists strive to improve a person’s quality of life and mobility and help prevent further injury. Some of the treatment methods used may include exercise programming, joint manipulation, muscle re-education, airway clearance techniques, soft tissue mobilisation, dry needling and hydrotherapy. Physiotherapists can also assist with the use of aids like splints, crutches, walking stick and wheelchairs.

You can find a physiotherapist in your local area via https://choose.physio/find-a-physio

Multidisciplinary approach to care

To answer the original question, optimal results can be achieved with a multidisciplinary approach to care. This can happen when the two allied health professionals work with and refer between each other, providing the greatest outcomes for clients. Your client may need hands-on treatment from a physiotherapist to deal with pain initially but seeing an AEP would be advantageous for longer-term support around pain reduction and developing an exercise program that will assist with diabetes management.

The main difference between the two allied health professionals is that a physiotherapist offers hands-on treatment and passive treatment with joint manipulation, massage and acupuncture. An exercise physiologist provides hands-off treatment, providing specific clinical exercise programs across the rehabilitation stages. 

Both allied health professionals have similar end goals when it comes to treatment; however, the treatment path to recovery will be slightly different.