Sports Injury: What is The Difference Between a Sports Therapist and a Physiotherapist?

So, you’re looking for a therapist’s expert advice and guidance related to sports therapy, but you’re not sure whether you need to see a sports therapist or a physiotherapist. What’s the difference between a sports therapist and a physiotherapist? And who would you see for your situation? While the two types of therapists may treat very similar conditions, there are some key differences that you’ll want to know before attending an appointment. Let’s go through what each therapist does and the key differences between the two.

What is a physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists are primary health care providers who focus on health promotion, as well as injury and disease prevention and treatment. Physiotherapists are trained in the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of injury and musculoskeletal injury that arise from cardiovascular, neurological, and musculoskeletal conditions. Physiotherapists can provide hands-on treatment (manual therapy) and work in multiple settings, including private practice (e.g. community clinic), acute care (e.g. hospital), and rehabilitation. Since physiotherapists are primary health care providers, a referral or doctor’s note is not required to see one. Physiotherapists are regulated health care providers, which means they must uphold the legal, regulatory, and professional standards set out by the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario. In order to become a physiotherapist in Canada, individuals must complete a Master’s level university education from one of the accredited schools. Physiotherapists may also obtain additional education after university to practice certain restricted authorized activities. Once competent through continuing education, physiotherapists can roster with their college to perform any of the following restricted activities:

  • Spinal manipulation
  • Tracheal suctioning
  • Acupuncture
  • Assessment and treatment of pelvic musculature
  • Treating a wound below the dermis
  • Administering a substance by inhalation

Registered physiotherapists can also complete specialty certification programs to obtain any of the following specialty designations:

  • Cardiorespiratory Specialist
  • Musculoskeletal Specialist
  • Neuroscience Specialist
  • Oncology Specialist
  • Paediatrics Specialist
  • Pain Sciences Specialist
  • Seniors’ Health Specialist
  • Sport Physiotherapy Specialist
  • Women’s Health Specialist

What is a sports therapist?

The title “sports therapist” is not restricted in Canada. This means technically anyone can call themselves a sports therapist without necessarily having specific qualifications or education. This title is commonly used in other countries outside of Canada. Within Canada, athletic therapists are comparable to sports therapists and are more common. Athletic therapists are best known for their roles in emergency care on the field during sporting events. They are typically the first to respond when someone gets injured during high-level sport. Sports therapy can also be found in clinic settings, focusing on the assessment and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. They are experts in both injury prevention and rehabilitation treatment approach. In order to become a certified in athletic therapy individuals must hold a valid first responder certificate, obtain a Bachelor’s degree, and complete the Athletic Therapy program at one of the accredited institutions in Canada.

Key differences between athletic therapists and physiotherapists

After discussing what both athletic therapists and physiotherapists are, you’re probably still wondering when you would see each one. Let’s break down the key differences between the two, so you can decide which healthcare profession would best suit your needs.


  • Broad scope of practice including cardiovascular, neurological, and musculoskeletal conditions
  • Regulated profession in Ontario (more coverage through 3rd party insurance)
  • Can diagnose musculoskeletal conditions
  • May work in hospital, rehabilitation, clinic, or sport settings
  • May provide rostered activities such as acupuncture, wound care, spinal manipulation, pelvic musculature assessment and treatment
  • Provides a variety of treatment options including exercise, massage, mobilization, stretching, and other modalities (e.g. tape, ice, heat, etc.)
  • May specialize in sports

Athletic therapist

  • Specializes in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions related to physical activities
  • Non-regulated profession in Ontario (less coverage through 3rd party insurance)
  • Can assess and treat musculoskeletal conditions but cannot diagnose
  • Mainly works in clinic or sport settings
  • Provides a variety of treatment options including exercise, massage, mobilization, stretching, and other modalities (e.g. tape, ice, heat, etc.)
  • Athletic therapy usually specializes in sports


As we’ve discussed above, there are some important differences between athletic therapy and physiotherapy. It’s important to consider your individual situation and what you’re looking for when choosing a therapist. In many situations either a physiotherapist or an athletic therapist can be helpful, but it’s important to determine if your situation requires one over the other. Physiotherapists have a broader scope of practice, which includes sporting injury and dysfunction. On the other hand, athletic therapy have a smaller scope of practice but more commonly specialize in sporting injury and dysfunction.

Still not sure whether you need to see a sports therapist or a physiotherapist in kitchener? Call us at 519-895-2020, or use our online booking tool on to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists, and they will be sure to help you understand your injury and find the most appropriate care for your needs.

Cheers, Physiotherapist at Strive Physiotherapy and Performance Book My Appointment physiotherapy sports physiotherapy athletic therapist sports therapist sports injury Book My Appointment


Liam Newlands
Physiotherapist at Strive Physiotherapy and Performance

Leave a Reply