If you are experiencing pain and a loss of mobility, you have likely researched what healthcare options are available to you in Canada — and were met with a variety of options.
When it comes to healthcare treatments for mobility and pain, the two healthcare providers you can rely on are physiotherapists and kinesiologists. Both of these providers offer necessary treatments that can improve your overall quality of life and restore your body’s function, allowing you to achieve your functional goals. In order to figure out the best profession to help you in any given scenario, it’s important to understand the similarities and differences between the two professions.
Additionally, before moving on, it’s also important to understand that these two professions often work closely together, sometimes even in the same clinic space. As such, there is a lot of crossover between the professions, so it’s not always black and white, but there are some key differences.
In this article, we will discuss the differences between kinesiologists and physiotherapists, including the different qualifications required of each professional.
Keep reading to find out how these healthcare providers differ and how to choose the best one for you!
What does a physiotherapist do?
A physiotherapist (also called a physical therapist) is a licensed healthcare professional that helps to physically rehabilitate patients who have undergone an injury or trauma. In Canada, a physiotherapist is required to first obtain an undergraduate degree with particular prerequisites for entry into a Physiotherapy program, which at this point, would be a Master’s of Science in Physiotherapy.
This rehabilitation process involves teaching patients how to restore their mobility and limb function without re-injuring themselves. Through the process of physiotherapy, a patient is more likely to heal properly, restore function and independence, and can learn effective strategies for preventing injuries in the future.
While injury or surgical rehabilitation is a physiotherapist’s bread and butter, the profession has now grown to encapsulate multiple areas of healthcare. For example, physiotherapists are also highly involved in the management of life-long conditions, such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, arthritic and/or inflammatory conditions, etc. The focus is still on optimizing the individual’s function and ability to maximize their independence in their everyday life, and the physiotherapist will have a specific knowledge and training to effectively help with these different conditions.
As such, the Canadian Institute for Health Information states that physiotherapists work to promote optimal mobility and are “regulated, evidence-based, primary health care professionals.”
Additionally, as we eluded to above, different sub-types of physiotherapy may require special qualifications, such as:
- Sports and athletics physiotherapy
- Geriatric physiotherapy
- Orthopedic physiotherapy
- Pediatric physiotherapy
- Neurological physiotherapy
- Cardiovascular physiotherapy
What does a kinesiologist do?
A kinesiologist is a healthcare professional that applies the science of human movement and biomechanics to help improve a patient’s quality of life. While a kinesiology degree is not required to become a physiotherapist, many physiotherapists in Canada do hold an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology.
There are many similarities to a physiotherapist, but the role of a kinesiologist does differ in some ways.
For starters, kinesiologists are experts in human anatomy and implementing fitness-based care to assist an individual in achieving their health goals. Comparing the two, a kinesiologist may employ more general fitness and training techniques to treat an individual and improve overall health, while a physiotherapist may be more well-versed in the nuances of assessing for, and diagnosing, specific injuries, and subsequently applying specific activity-based treatment techniques with or without additional therapeutic modalities and manual therapy.
Overall, kinesiology as a practice combines many different types of human sciences to create a well-rounded healthcare practice and approach to treatment. These sciences include:
- Strength conditioning
- Sports psychology
- Exercise physiology
How do treatments differ?
Generally speaking, kinesiologists often deal with patients that want to improve their overall quality of life, while physiotherapists more often deal with patients that need to restore their previous quality of life, or improve their quality of life following an injury or surgery.
To better demonstrate this difference, let’s consider two different scenarios:
A patient injured their shoulder while playing a contact sport and is experiencing pain and a reduction in their mobility, strength, and overall function. A visit to a physiotherapist would be best for this patient, as the physiotherapist can perform a comprehensive assessment, develop a diagnosis, and determine the right treatment plan for optimizing the patient’s recovery.
In this case, it’s possible the physiotherapist identifies some issues that may require referral to a different healthcare professional, such as an orthopedic surgeon, or for additional investigations such as diagnostic imaging. As a primary healthcare practitioner, a physiotherapist will be able to appropriately guide you through this investigative phase.
Whether or not imaging or a surgical consult occurs, it is likely the physiotherapist will maintain involvement in the patient’s care. The physiotherapist can begin identify when it’s appropriate to begin treatment, can develop well-structured progressive activity-based treatment plan, and identify other treatment methods within the clinic that may assist with recovery.
Just as importantly, if not more importantly, the physiotherapist can identify and discuss movements or tasks that will impede recovery or potentially harm the patient, which will improve patient safety and minimize the risk of setbacks.
Lastly, in this scenario, a Kinesiologist may also play a role. For example, the physiotherapist may develop an activity-based treatment plan that can be implemented, monitored, and guided by a kinesiologist. With multiple sets of eyes on the patient, and various forms of expertise, collaboration can often yield successful recovery.
An elderly individual is finding it difficult to navigate their home. They report becoming fatigued rather quickly and are worried the may fall one day. Additionally, they want to keep up with their family and friends on outings. They would like to improve their overall strength, balance, and conditioning, but have no idea where to start.
Assuming no other red flags or major health conditions that have yet to be brought under control, a Kinesiologist can offer their expertise to identify cardiovascular, mobility, and strength deficits of the individual. From there, they can develop an optimal exercise program for the patient that can be progressed as the patient improves.
Additionally some kinesiologists may run group exercise classes for specific populations. For example, classes may be catered to young athletes, older individuals, or those suffering from a particular condition or disease. Just like physiotherapists, many kinesiologists end up specializing in a specific area to provide optimal care for particular populations.
Just like Scenario 1, a physiotherapist may become involved in this case of the older individual seeking to improve their overall conditioning. For example, if the kinesiologist notices some signs or symptoms that they are worried about and cannot attend to with their training, for example, they suspect a particular injury, or the individual reports neck pain and dizziness with certain movements, they may refer to a physiotherapist for an assessment.
Both of these types of healthcare professionals can help with both rehabilitation and ongoing treatment. The key distinction between the two often comes down to the patient’s goals, the depth and specificity of treatment required to help achieve those goals, and other medical conditions that may be involved. Both physiotherapy and kinesiology are regulated practices in Canada.
What qualifications are required to become a physiotherapist?
To become a physiotherapist in Canada, you typically need one of the two following requirements:
- A license or registration with a regulatory body in the relevant province/territory
- A Master’s degree in Physiotherapy, including supervised practical training
For the latter option, you must pursue a graduate degree at an institution of your choice that offers a physiotherapy master’s program. As for the first option, here is a quick breakdown of the Canadian physiotherapy regulators in each province and territory that provide licensure to practice:
- Alberta: College of Physiotherapists of Alberta
- British Columbia: College of Physical Therapists of British Columbia
- Manitoba: Professional Certification and Student Records (for School Clinician Physiotherapists) or College of Physiotherapists of Manitoba (for general physiotherapists)
- New Brunswick: College of Physiotherapists of New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Newfoundland and Labrador College of Physiotherapists
- Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia College of Physiotherapists
- Ontario: College of Physiotherapists of Ontario
- Prince Edward Island: Prince Edward Island College of Physiotherapists
- Québec: Ordre professionnel de la physiothérapie du Québec
- Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan College of Physical Therapists
- Yukon: Professional Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Government of Yukon
Where do physiotherapists typically work?
Physiotherapists can work in a variety of different organizations and businesses in Canada.
According to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, these organizations and businesses include private clinics, general hospitals, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, residential care centers, assisted-living facilities, schools, and workplaces.
The association further reports that Canada has more than 20,000 registered physiotherapists.
How much does a physiotherapist charge in Canada?
Though Canada does have universal healthcare coverage, unfortunately, it does not cover visits to the physiotherapist in many cases. Exceptions to this vary by province, and can include exceptions like post-surgical rehabilitation, physiotherapy received in a hospital setting, or workplace injuries.
Let’s take a look at the average costs of physiotherapy in Canada. There is a wide range of types and duration of treatment, and as such, these should be considered ballpark estimates:
- Standard 30 to 60-Minute Assessment (Private Practice): $90 to $150
- 15 to 30 Minute Follow-Up Treatment: $
- 30 to 60 Minute Massage Session (provided by RMT): $60 to $120 per hour
Many physiotherapists offer additional services, like IMS dry needling, vestibular physiotherapy, and shockwave therapy, which occasionally come at either an extra cost or their own individually-priced sessions. If you are specifically seeking specific forms of treatment like this, it is advised to inquire before booking about what is included in a session, and what may be an additional cost.
How much does a physiotherapist earn in Canada?
In Canada, physiotherapists can earn a fairly high wage for their work.
According to job data from Indeed, the average hourly pay for a physiotherapist is $47.42 per hour, while the average annual salary is $74,285. Keep in mind this is one source of data, and depending on the setting (e.g. public vs. private healthcare) and contract structure, this can be lower or higher.
What qualifications are required to become a kinesiologist?
Although kinesiology is regulated in Canada, it is not as heavily regulated as physiotherapy.
According to the Government of Canada’s Job Bank, kinesiologists must typically have one or a combination of the following qualifications:
- A four-year bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, physical education, or human kinetics
- Certification from the Canadian Kinesiology Alliance
- Registration through a regulatory body (only in Ontario)
Additionally, certain specialized areas require extra qualifications — for example, Athletic Therapy and Recreational Therapy, whereby these professions will hold their own regulatory bodies.
An athletic therapist must have a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology or a degree in health sciences with a specialization in sports injury management. Meanwhile, a recreational therapist must typically have a bachelor’s degree in Recreation or Kinesiology with a specialization in therapeutic recreation.
Where do kinesiologists typically work?
Like physiotherapists, kinesiologists can work in a variety of different organizations and businesses.
The Canadian Kinesiology Alliance lists the following sectors as potential workplaces for kinesiologists:
- Municipal organizations
- Research facilities
- Private and public educational institutions
- Fitness centers
- Military and paramilitary organizations
- Community health centers
- Outdoor recreation
- Athletics and sports departments
- At-home healthcare
- Public or private managed centers
- Public or private rehabilitation centers
- Government health facilities
- Insurance companies
How much does a kinesiologist charge in Canada?
As a less regulated practice, it can be hard to name a standard pricing model for kinesiology.
In general, you can expect to pay roughly the same, or less, for a kinesiology session as you would for a physiotherapy session. However, this price can vary depending on what business or organization you are visiting, with private centres often charging higher prices.
How much does a kinesiologist earn in Canada?
Kinesiologists are reported to earn a similar starting wage and salary to physiotherapists; however, the ceiling is typically higher for physiotherapists as they continue to gain certifications and potentially specialize in different areas. Given physiotherapy sessions are usually a little more expensive, clinics typically pay physiotherapists a little more to reflect that price and the additional expertise involved.
According to the Economic Research Institute, a kinesiologist can earn an average hourly wage of $43 per hour, or an annual salary of up to $89,271. Keep in mind this is one source of data, and given the wide array of settings that a kinesiologist may work in, this can be lower or higher.
When should you see a kinesiologist vs. physiotherapist?
Both physiotherapists and kinesiologists can help you achieve a better quality of life and recover from injuries or traumas that have affected your body’s mobility.
In general, kinesiology may be best for patients trying to improve their daily quality of life, especially if they are free of acute injury and/or disease, or have the knowledge and ability to confidently manage those conditions. A physiotherapist may be best for patients trying to diagnose and recover from an injury, recover from a surgery, or manage long term conditions or diseases that have impacted their functional independence.
Top-quality professionals in either field should also have the willingness to recommend a visit to the other’s practice if they deem a patient’s problems can be better solved by another practice. Communication and collaboration is key in healthcare, and this should include the patient’s preferences as well.
No matter which healthcare provider you ultimately choose, the key is to be as open and honest with your practitioner as possible. Only you can tell a kinesiologist or physiotherapist what symptoms you are experiencing — thus, make sure to include as many details as possible in your assessments and sessions.
If you are striving to become a kinesiologist or physiotherapist, you have two main pathways to these professions — traditional college education (bachelor’s and master’s degrees) or regional certification if you already hold the associated professional designation. For anyone taking the certification route, make sure to research the requirements of the regulatory body in that specific province or territory.