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What’s the difference between a physiotherapist, an accredited exercise physiologist, an osteopath, and a chiropractor?

When you’re feeling pain or muscle soreness, or have another type of health concern related to exercise and movement, there are a range of health professionals who can help.

Four of the most common types are physiotherapists, accredited exercise physiologists, osteopaths and chiropractors – but it can be confusing knowing who to turn to for which type of issue.

Here’s a look at what these four health professionals do, and how they can help you – as well as how much you can expect to pay when you make an appointment.

What does a physiotherapist help with?

Physiotherapists are trained to assess, diagnose and treat conditions, diseases and disabilities with movement and exercise. They study body movement and function.

You’ll often see a physiotherapist if you have an injury, illness or disability that impacts the movement and function of your body.

During a typical session, your physiotherapist will:

  • Diagnose your condition
  • Assess your needs
  • Work with you to set and attain goals – for example, preparing for a marathon, or
  • Develop a treatment or prevention plan that accounts for your overall health and wellbeing
  • Prescribe exercise and possibly other types of physical aides

What is an accredited exercise physiologist?

Accredited exercise physiologists (AEPs) create individual exercise programs for people who have serious health conditions, like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

They also work with people who are at risk of developing these conditions.

The programs AEPs create focus on helping patients to change their unhealthy lifestyle behaviours – with a focus on advice and support, as well as program delivery.

A typical session with an AEP will include:

  • Initial assessment to consider your health and exercise history
  • Physical assessment to determine your current abilities – this helps your AEP to design a program for you
  • Explanation of how exercise therapy can help you – for example, how it will treat your condition or improve your quality of life
  • Giving you strategies to achieve your exercise and health goals – an exercise program, for example
  • Giving you instructions to help you complete your exercise program
  • Giving you written reports about your exercise program which you can give to your doctor, nurse or specialist

Your AEP will likely make follow-up appointments with you to track your progress and modify your program if necessary.

What is an osteopath?

Osteopathy takes a hands-on approach recognising the link between structures of the body and the way the body works. Osteopaths work with muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons, using a variety of techniques. Including stretch, massage, pressure points and manipulation, to help improve health and well-being.

A typical session with an osteopath includes:

  • Initial questioning about your problems, symptoms, medical history and any medications you’re taking
  • Physical examination and tests to best determine how to manage your condition
  • Treatment considering your whole body – your osteopath will look at the area that’s troubling you, as well as other parts of your body
  • Education and guidance, such as exercise programs, to help you manage your condition

What is a chiropractor?

Chiropractors help to treat neuromuscular disorders like neck and back pain, by focusing on adjusting and manipulating the spine.

In addition to getting to the source of the pain, chiropractors aim to improve your movement and function.

They also help you understand how you can improve your health and manage your pain with exercise and other combined therapies.

A chiropractor appointment includes thorough questioning to determine your medical history, as well as a health exam, in order to make a potential diagnosis. Treatment can then be applied, and this can include adjustments to joint dysfunctions, exercises, patient education, and other treatments or modalities.

Chiropractors can also help you work out if you would benefit from preventative care and what would work best for your individual health concern and situation.

What qualifications do they have?

  • Physiotherapists require either a 4-year undergraduate degree or a 3-year undergraduate degree followed by a Master of Physiotherapy (2 years) or a Doctorate of Physiotherapy (3 years)
  • Accredited exercise physiologists require either a 4-year undergraduate degree or a 3-year undergraduate degree followed by a Graduate Diploma of Exercise Physiology (1 year) or Master of Exercise Physiology (1-2 years) or a Doctorate of physiotherapy (3 years)
  • Osteopaths require a minimum of 5 years university training in anatomy, physiology, pathology, general medical diagnosis and osteopathic techniques. They are also trained to perform standard medical examinations of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems.
  • Chiropractors must undergo 5 years of training at a university on an approved and accredited degree course, or undertake a Bachelor degree (3 years) followed by a post-graduate Masters (2 years).

What are the differences in costs?

The costs of seeing these health professionals do vary between professionals. Here’s a typical breakdown of the average costs:

  • Physiotherapists – your initial appointment is usually the longest and most expensive. It can take around an hour and cost from $65 to $120. Usually, follow-up appointments cost a little less ($55-95) and take less time (30 to 45 minutes).
  • Accredited exercise physiologists – costs vary, with some providers charging $75 for an initial 45-minute consultation and $60 for a further 30-minute review consultation
  • Osteopaths – costs vary, with some practitioners charging $100 for an initial session and $80 for follow-up sessions
  • Chiropractors – according to the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia, first consultations tend to cost around $65 to $120, and regular visits cost around $40 to $55.

If you have private health insurance your cover may pay a benefit.

How long do I need to see them for?

How long you see your physiotherapist, accredited exercise physiologist, osteopath or chiropractor depends on your specific health concern

You may only need one appointment – or, you may need a series of appointments. Your health professional is the best person to guide you on this.



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Article by: Defence Health