What is the difference between a Kinesiologist and a Physiotherapist?


Aaron Fellows, GDip, BAppSc.

Aaron Fellows, GDip, BAppSc.

Certified Exercise Physiologist, Registered Kinesiologist

Aaron is a kinesiologist from Australia from where he completed a Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science and a Graduate Diploma of Clinical Exercise Physiology, and where he was a certified exercise physiologist with Exercise and Sport Science Australia. Since arriving in Montreal permanently in 2014 he has worked in many varying roles. He is the project coordinator and kinesiology clinic supervisor at McGill University, he was the manager of kinesiology at a neuro rehabilitation clinic, he has worked for St.Mary’s hospital where he was involved in screening cancer patients, and also teaches at the collegiate level.

What is a Kinesiologist?

In Canada most people have probably heard of physical therapists, physiotherapists, athletic trainers. But, who and what are kinesiologists and exercise physiologists?  


What does a Physiotherapist do?

Physiotherapists tend to work with people more often in the acute phase (when you first have your injury) and will work on very specific functional goals related to that limitation, injury or technique, such as:

  • Improving function in the injured area
  • Improving range of motion in the joint
  • Reducing swelling
  • Give you exercises to help your injury recover in a shorter period of time
  • Evaluate and test any injury or pain that you have and be able to diagnose your problem 

What does a Kinesiologist do?

Kinesiologists do not do these types of tests nor can they diagnose your injury or illness. Kinesiologists come from a more total body approach and will focus on whole body training taking into consideration your injury whereas physiotherapy will look for exercises to improve the recovery of your injury. That is why they work very well together as part of a multidisciplinary team.

It is possible to find several Kinesiologists’ definitions, but in a simple way; once your injury is on the way to recovery kinesiologists can then take your rehab program and push you even more towards returning, to sport, work or your normal daily activities.

How are they different in their work with patients?

Kinesiologists and exercise physiologists basically help people become their best physical selves. They can provide you with at home exercise programs, exercise routines designed specifically for your individual goals, programs for work, posture, and anything related to your daily lifestyle. To give a real-world example for someone in a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury:

How does a physiotherapist work? 

Physiotherapists may work on an aspect such as transferring from a wheelchair to another surface. They may work on body position, hand position and technique of the transfer.

How does a Kinesiologist work? 

A kinesiologist working with the same patient may look at what muscles are used for these transfers and look for exercises to improve the strength and endurance to compliment their work in physio. This means the patient is not only becoming more efficient with their technique but also getting stronger and having more endurance to make this technique easier.

What studies have Kinesiologists and Exercise Professionals completed?

Both kinesiologists and exercise physiologists are University qualified health professionals. They have completed at minimum a bachelor degree at University and study a range of subjects related to the human body including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, motor control, adapted physical activity and many more.

What accreditation do Kinesiologists and Exercise Professionals hold?

They also need to be registered with a professional order such as the provincial kinesiology association or for some the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.

Being registered with these orders ensures professional standards as there are rules and regulations therapists must achieve each year to keep their registration active. It also ensures that they are up to date with the latest research in the field of health and fitness.

Where do Kinesiologists and Exercise Professionals work?

In Canada you will find kinesiologists and exercise professionals working in a number of different environments. You may find them in hospitals helping to run programs for people with chronic illness, they may be in Universities helping install exercise and physical activity programs, in gyms overseeing exercise programming and group fitness, or even in professional sporting clubs working on athletes’ strength and conditioning.

Kinesiologists are trained and educated on how to adapt exercises for chronic health conditions. They can help you with your condition and find exercises that will benefit your condition. They are a great health professional to have in your corner, and they will happily coordinate with other members of your healthcare team.

Who are the patients of Kinesiologists and Exercise Professionals?

Their clientele can be varied and range from training high performance athletes, helping patients improve their level of function suffering from a chronic illness or helping everyday individuals reach their health and fitness goals.

More specifically, kinesiologists can work with and design exercise programs for people with cancer, copd, stroke, spinal cord injuries, parkinson’s disease etc. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for almost every chronic health condition.

How can Kinesiologists and Exercise Professionals help people with chronic illness?

For chronic illness and disease exercise and physical activity are very important. Knowing what exercises to do and how to do them is something that many people with injuries or illness are unsure of. Exercise physiologists and kinesiologists will:

  • Talk to you about your health condition
  • Educate you on how exercise can help with the management of your chronic disease(s)
  • Give you appropriate exercises and modifications to help you be more active

Kinesiologists and physiotherapists will work with any limitations that you have whether it be related to your condition or access to gym and or health centres. They will assess your physical conditioning and help you to improve no matter what your level of fitness.

In terms of experiencing the benefits of exercise and physical activity; kinesiologists and exercise physiologists are the most qualified health professionals to help you.

If you or a loved one needs to consult a kinesiologist, contact us. We can help you.

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