What is the difference between treatment from a Physiotherapist vs an Athletic Therapist?

While Athletic Therapy and Physiotherapy are two distinct professional designation, there is very little difference with regard to quality treatment at Elite Sports Injury clinics.

With a patient centric focus, our therapists are well versed in orthopaedic and musculoskeletal injury assessment and rehabilitation techniques. Deciding which is right for you might just depend on what kind of insurance coverage you have.

Athletic therapists are focused solely on musculoskeletal disorders, while Physiotherapists have more scope with regards to neurological and cardiovascular health issues. Both professions have a focus on prevention of injury, proper assessments, acute and chronic injury management, as well as maintaining a high standard of professional responsibility. Physician referrals are not required to receive assessment by a physiotherapist or athletic therapist.

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Both therapists possess the skills and knowledge to:

Assess and diagnose injuries
Deliver a personalized treatment plan to maximize movement and physical independence
Teach patients how to reduce pain and manage chronic injuries
Implement rehabilitation programs
Pain management
Teach patients how to stay fit and well

Shared treatment approaches used to aid recovery include:

Massage, body work and mobilizations
Electrotherapy modalities
Varied stretching technique
Biomechanics analysis
Patient education
Exercise prescription


Given coverage with Manitoba Public Insurance, Workers Compensation Board, some insurance providers give separate coverage for each Athletic Therapy and Physiotherapy, which may help extend your services coverage.

Key Differences Between Physiotherapy and Athletic Therapy

As pointed out, the two professions share many similarities and overlap in their treatment programs, but, there are some key differences to note:

  • 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.
  • 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 attempt to rehabilitate patients to allow them to feel comfortable and cope in their day-to-day life, whereas Athletic therapists on the other hand focus more on whether that the patient has returned to or can maintain the physical level required for whatever sporting activity they would like to carry out.
  • As Athletic therapists concentrate solely on musculoskeletal rehabilitation and have a sports-centric background, it makes them ideal to patients who are aiming to return to exercise or other physical activities.

The main differences between Physiotherapy and Athletic Therapy are seen in their scope of practice and educational background.


Physiotherapists have a diverse scope of practice and treat a wide range of clients of all ages, as well as varying levels of activity. Physiotherapists undergo an intensive four – five year Bachelor degree or Masters in Medical Rehabilitation for Physical Therapy with exam certification to give national portability. Their formal education focuses on the study of neurology, cardiology/cardiopulmonary and orthopaedics. Physiotherapists also have the ability to further focus on manual therapy, vestibular, pelvic floor, cardio-respiratory rehabilitation, burn patients, pediatrics, geriatrics, stroke, neurological disease rehabilitation and many other skills. They use education, manual therapy, exercise, taping, and modalities during their treatments, to provide active rehab for acute and chronic issues. Physiotherapists are proficient at assessing muscle/joint pain and much more including: stress management, dizziness, balance, lifestyle, etc.

Physiotherapy is a Self-Regulated Profession moving under the Regulated Health Care Professional Act, and Primary Health care provider.

Athletic Therapy

Athletic Therapists are experts in musculoskeletal disorders. They treat pain and injury through hands-on treatment and rehabilitation. Athletic Therapists go through a highly demanding three-year degree course which focuses primarily on the musculoskeletal system and on restoring, maintaining and maximizing movement to relieve pain and increase quality of life.

The regulating body of Athletic Therapy in Manitoba is Canadian Athletic Therapists Association (CATA), who describe the profession as:

“Certified Athletic Therapists are best known for their quick-thinking on-field emergency care of professional and elite athletes. The first to respond when someone gets hurt, they are experts at injury assessment and rehabilitation. It’s that same mix of on-site care and active rehabilitation skills that makes Athletic Therapists so effective in treating the musculoskeletal (muscles, bones, and joints) injuries of all Canadians, whether on the field or in the clinic.

Athletic therapists adhere to the Sports Medicine Model of care. They treat a wide range of patients, from kids with concussions to seniors recovering from hip replacement surgery, using various manual therapies, modalities, exercise prescription and even bracing and taping. The treatment varies but the objective doesn’t: an Athletic Therapist's goal is to help clients return to their usual activities, whether that means playing competitive sports or walking to the mailbox and back.”

Physiotherapists and athletic therapists often work together, along with other healthcare professionals, to achieve a mutual goal: making you feel better and getting you back to the activities you enjoy.

Patients should always check with their extended health benefits plans to be sure the treatment they will be receiving is covered.