What Is The Difference Between A Physiotherapist (PT) & An Athletic Therapist (AT)

An Athletic Therapist stretching the right leg of a woman

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Physiotherapists and Athletic Therapists are both medical rehabilitation clinicians with a university degree. Many ask, so what is the difference?

Both have a patient-centred focus and highly skilled orthopaedic and musculoskeletal injury assessment and rehabilitation treatments or techniques. 

Athletic therapists are focused solely on musculoskeletal disorders, while Physiotherapists have more scope concerning neurological and cardiovascular health issues. Both professions focus on injury prevention, postural education and body mechanics, acute and chronic injury rehab, and exercise prescription (from stretches to strength and core training to name a few). Physician referrals are not required to receive treatment from either practitioner; however, your insurance provider may need this to cover your claim submission. 

Key Differences Between PT & AT:

  • Physiotherapists have a broader knowledge base and medical background, which allows them to treat musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular, and respiratory issues. This makes them ideal for treating a wide range of patients, including complex patients with multiple conditions. Physiotherapists all over Canada now graduate with a Master’s in Physiotherapy (minimum, 5 years of education). 
  • Athletic therapists generally have more exposure to sporting environments at an undergraduate level, making them ideal for preventing sports injuries through specific strengthening programs.
  • Physiotherapists rehabilitate patients to allow them to feel comfortable and confident in their ADLs (activities of daily living), whereas Athletic therapists focus more on whether the patient has returned to or can maintain the physical level required for whatever sporting activity they would like to carry out. Of course, Physiotherapists can rehabilitate patients to hone skills in certain sports or hobbies as well. 
  • Athletic therapists concentrate solely on musculoskeletal rehabilitation and have a sports-centric background, making them ideal for patients aiming to return to exercise or other physical activities. 

Scope of Practice and Educational Background:


Physiotherapists have a diverse scope of practice and treat a wide array of patients of all ages, as well as varying levels of activity. Physiotherapists undergo an intensive 5-year master’s in medical Rehabilitation for Physical Therapy with exam certification to give national certification. Their formal education focuses on the study of neurology, cardiology/cardiopulmonary and orthopaedics. Physiotherapists also can further educate themselves on manual therapy, vestibular therapy, pelvic floor therapy, cardio-respiratory rehabilitation, burn patients, pediatrics, geriatrics, stroke, neurological disease rehabilitation and many other skills. They use education, manual therapy (joint mobilizations, soft tissue release, muscle energy techniques), exercise, taping, acupuncture/dry needling, and modalities during their treatments. 


Athletic Therapists are skilled in musculoskeletal disorders. They treat pain and injury through education, hands-on techniques and exercise prescription. Athletic Therapists go through a highly demanding three-year degree course which focuses primarily on the musculoskeletal system and on restoring, preserving, and increasing movement to relieve pain and increase the quality of life.

Physiotherapists and athletic therapists often work together with other healthcare professionals to achieve a mutual goal: Making you feel your best, improving your quality of life and getting back into activities. If you are looking for a physiotherapist in Winnipeg, contact Fit4Life today. 

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