Sports injury massage

What’s the difference then between a Sports Therapist and a Physiotherapist?

Our Sports Therapists are often called Physios or Sports Physios. Patients will also say that they are off to their ‘physio session’. And recently, whilst sticking my elbow into a patient’s Trapezius muscle she asked (through gritted teeth) the classic question: “What’s the difference, then, between a Sports Therapist and a Physiotherapist?”

We know the answer. It is subtle – and probably doesn’t really matter too much to you, the patient. However, if you are interested, here are the official definitions:

What Is Physiotherapy?

The logo of the Soc of Physiotherapists

“Physiotherapy is a rehabilitation profession that promotes improvement in quality of life through diagnosis, examination and treatment.”  

Or this one from the dictionary:


  1. the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.

What Is Sports Therapy?

“Sports Therapy is concerned with prevention, rehabilitation and treatment of the patient back to optimum occupational and / or sport specific fitness.”

Sports Therapy was the brainchild of Professor Graham Smith (who is also a Physio). The Society’s website says that his idea was to

“address the growing demands from sport and leisure on everyone involved in the management and care of injured participants.”

Have a look at our page on Sports Therapy if you want to know more – our web page on sports injury therapy is here.  

As you can see, they are both very similar in their treatment goals.

So, what IS the difference?

Physiotherapy is typically more medically focused. If you’ve had a serious medical issue, such as a heart attack or a stroke, then your immediate care should be provided by a Physiotherapist. Sports Therapists are not trained to help you in your initial recovery. However, they will be more useful further down the line.

Sports Therapists tend to specialize more on the injury side of things. Bear in mind that most of the conditions you would normally take to see a Physio are usually something a Sports Therapist can help with.

Why see a Sports Therapist and not a Physio?

There are some medical conditions that you should most definitely see a Physiotherapist for over a Sports Therapist.  

However, in our considerable experience of these things, it seems that the NHS have moved to a hands-off, exercise-based rehab delivered by Physios. This works, but when you combine some hands-on work with complimentary rehabilitation exercises things just seem to get better. And faster. This is best delivered by Sports Therapists.

Our Sports Therapists incorporate exercise-based rehab (when appropriate). They also use hands-on joint mobilisation, muscle activation, myofascial release and Sports Massage. They’ll select whatever of these is most appropriate for you and your problem. This is shown here if you want to know more about deep tissue massage.

So, is a Sports Therapist effectively a Physio?

Sports Therapists are not Physiotherapists. However, Sports Therapists will use “physiotherapy” skills. This is because physiotherapy is also defined as:

“the treatment of injury by physical methods including massage and exercise rather than drugs or surgery.”

This is just what Sports Therapists do. The biggest difference is that Sports Therapist are not allowed to diagnose. Though, in practice, they often do.

Sports Therapy massage

But why the ‘Sport’ in Sports Therapy?

This causes us all kinds of problems in terms of who we can help. The word “Sport” in the therapy comes from the underlying principle that we are looking to improve people’s sporting performance. Specifically, from an injured state to a non-injured state.

Of course, non-sporty types can have the same injuries as sporting people. The treatments and techniques we use on non-athletes work just as much as they do on athletes. It may be that your “improvement in performance” is just being able to walk to work every day! Also, we’re often asked: “I don’t do sport, can I still come and see you?”. And that’s the people who aren’t already put off by the word Sport and have contacted us in the first place! Of course, you can!

What difference does it make?

Well we think absolutely none! The main thing is that you find a therapist that you like and trust. Whether that’s a Sports Therapist or a Physiotherapist it really doesn’t matter. So long as they care about your condition and doing everything they can to fix it. 

Have you experienced both and what was the difference you saw?

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