Working as a personal trainer in the city and an athletic therapist in rural areas puts me in a interesting situation. Injured friends, co-workers, clients who would potentially be patients of mine instead ask me to refer them to a therapist in the city. I think it's a rare position to be in. These patients often express their interest in the difference between not only physiotherapy and athletic therapy, but also massage and chiropractic treatment, and over the years I have done my best to provide an objective answer. But just like all other practitioners, I surely emphasize some points and neglect others; so here is an attempt to inform you as to how these professions compare.
I've asked for the opinion of colleagues from each distinctive field, who all have one thing in common: they completed their kinesiology degree and then chose their respective field. Kinesiology is the study of human movement and is the backbone of all things related to the body. I feel this foundation and thought process is essential to the restorative process.
Here are a few excerpts from a brief question-and-answer session with these bright young minds.
COMMON MISCONCEPTION: Glorified personal trainers, deal only with athletes, and aren't covered by insurance.
PROFESSIONAL OPINION: Athletic therapy is a multi-faceted approach to the prevention, assessment and treatment of all musculoskeletal conditions. We use many different treatment approaches (including exercise), and I can vouch for all Manitoba athletic therapists that we are well-educated and covered by most major insurance companies. While athletic therapy is a service separate from physio, MPI, WCB and the majority of your private insurance companies will cover our services. In addition to insurance coverage, the difference between AT and PT in private practice exists more on an individual-practitioner basis and the specialty treatment courses pursued post-grad, rather than the population you can treat, because everyone is an athlete. Whether you are moving on the ice, at a job site, or in the garden, proper movement and mechanics are essential to your well-being.
COMMON MISCONCEPTION: Relaxing, self-directed treatment. You choose what you want worked on.
PROFESSIONAL OPINION: Massage therapy is essentially the manipulation of soft tissue to produce a desired therapeutic effect. Howie Eugenio, RMT, agrees that massage differs mostly because it is totally hands-on for the therapist, and very passive for the patient. "I tend to see clients with long-term issues and pain, whereas other professions may treat someone right after an injury occurs," Eugenio says. A good massage therapist can provide basic postural assessments, direct an appropriate treatment approach and give you essential feedback as to the state of your soft tissue. And believe me, it's not always relaxing!
COMMON MISCONCEPTION: Snap, crackle and pop. After a five- to 15-minute manipulation, you are pain-free -- for a week.
PROFESSIONAL OPINION: Chiropractic care focuses on the detection of fixated and limited joints and their manipulation in order to restore full movement. Ben Townsend began his kinesiology degree at the U of M, but then ventured south to become a doctor of chiropractic in Minneapolis and is attempting to bury the business-first mentality of so many service providers (AT, PT, MT, and chiro alike). "It's important to find a treatment provider that will do everything possible to help you get better and not just get you in and out as quick as possible," Townsend says. He believes the future of patient care is having every provider under one roof; communicating with each other and partnering co-operatively to create patient-care models.
COMMON MISCONCEPTION: Shake 'n' bake therapy. Heat, modality (machine), ice, see you in a week.
PROFESSIONAL OPINION: Kevin Friesen finished both his kinesiology and physiotherapy bachelor degrees at the University of Manitoba. He firmly believes physiotherapy is a client-based approach to improving quality of life by preventing and managing disease and injury. This last point is a huge difference between athletic therapy and physiotherapy. Physiotherapists are also educated to manage chronic disease in a hospital setting whereas athletic therapists are taught to deal with acute, traumatic injury management. Physiotherapists have potentially the most diverse set of treatment options at their disposal; Kevin recommends looking into the specific types of treatment a certain physiotherapist uses on a regular basis (manipulation, acupuncture, etc.)
No matter what avenue of treatment you choose, it comes down to this: Is your therapist running a business or a service? Your therapist should be just that -- a therapist. It's up to you to ensure the one you've chosen takes the time necessary to get to know you and your injury and provides an appropriate and concise treatment plan that you feel is right for you. Educate yourself and ask people you trust for referrals -- your livelihood may one day depend on us.
Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and trainer.