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What is the difference between a Kinesiologist and Physiotherapist in Ontario?

Kinesiology has been receiving increased attention since becoming a regulated health profession in 2013, which has had some people asking how kinesiologists are different from other health professionals, such as physiotherapists. It is true that their scopes overlap to a great deal, and this can make it difficult to decide on what professional would be the best to consult for your pain or condition.


I've created the chart below to help clarify roles in the more typical areas that people associate with each profession.

Service

Kinesiologist

Physiotherapist

Exercise Therapy for Injuries

****

****

Exercise Management of Chronic Illness

****

*

Injury Prevention

****

**

Manual Therapy

**

****

Spinal Manipulation

x

**

In-Home Appointments

***

*

Private Insurance Coverage

**

****

Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries

***

****

Rehabilitation of Workplace Injuries

****

****

Diagnosis of Musculoskeletal Injury

x

****

Ergonomics

***

*

Legend: x- never; * - rarely; ** - sometimes; *** - often; **** - almost always


So, we can see that kinesiologists and physiotherapists each provide similar services, although by different amounts depending on things such as the specific competencies of each professional, the need for a diagnosis, and especially the payer of the services.


It is important to mention, however, that unlike physiotherapy, kinesiologists can practice in both clinical and non-clinical practice areas. Non-clinical practice includes case management, health administration, and directing health programs, among others.


The problem with the “kinesiologist vs physiotherapist” debate:


Do a Google search on "kinesiologist vs physiotherapist" and you will undoubtedly find blog articles outlining specific duties or skills each profession offers that are based on business practice, not scope of practice. The kinesiologist's job description in these settings was created by the (non-kinesiologist) business owner and often limits the services that are offered to clients. As the table above shows, a large overlap exists and often a kinesiologist's practice is not at all different from that of a physiotherapist - in the same way that a physiotherapist's practice is not that different from that of a chiropractor.


Thankfully, Ontario is not like some provinces that divide services between professions like pieces of a pie. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, who sets the scopes of practice for Ontario’s health professions, deliberately ensured that related professions’ scopes overlap so that the public may choose their healthcare based on their individual needs and preferences. Although this might seem unnecessary to some, these redundancies were purposefully created to improve patient outcomes and control health care costs by creating a competitive environment between providers - which ultimately benefits both the individual and the health care system itself.


Despite these differences, kinesiologists and physiotherapists are able work very well together in order to provide care to their clients. Working within a team environment may mean that some common skills are assigned to one professional over the other, but this should always be done with the patient’s best interest in mind.


In my own experience, I work very differently with clients who are seeing me exclusively compared to those who are being followed by another health professional or team. And although you may think it would be discouraging to give up some control in helping a client, I find that focusing on a specific treatment modality (e.g., exercise, stretching) and coordinating with another professional’s treatment instead of doing it myself (e.g., manual therapy) actually improves the client’s progress with both of us. Also, it reduces the total number of appointments necessary to achieve your treatment goal, which is best for the client! It also allows an opportunity for professional communication and collaboration, which is not only a college standard of practice, but also can have an incredibly positive effect on professional development and future referrals.


Regardless of profession, every practitioner needs to know the limits of their abilities and have options for referring clients whose needs outstretch their skills. Regulation has allowed kinesiologists to expand our role in healthcare far beyond previous barriers, but we also need to know when other professions need to be consulted on any particular case.


Thank you for reading my article! If you found this topic interesting, or it raised any questions for you, please consider becoming a member of my website so you can comment below! You’ll also get updates when new blog articles are uploaded, so you never miss a posting.


Best regards,

John Gray, RKin, MSc, CSCS


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