Sports Rehabilitation v Physiotherapy: What is the Difference?


Sports Rehabilitation v Physiotherapy: What is the Difference?

When it comes to recovering from sports injuries or enhancing physical well-being, two terms often come to mind: sports rehabilitation and physiotherapy. While these two terms are closely related and share common goals, they have different approaches and areas of focus.  

In this blog, we will dive into the differences between the two, shedding light on their unique aspects, benefits, and contributions to overall health and fitness. 

Defining Sport Rehabilitation and Physiotherapy 

Sports Rehabilitation: 

Sports rehabilitation is a multi-disciplinary approach to healing and optimising the physical abilities of individuals who have suffered sports-related injuries; taking a range of techniques, exercises, and interventions designed to: 

- Restore function 

- Improve performance 

- Prevent future injuries 

Working in sports rehabilitation often involves a team of professionals who work collaboratively to tailor a personalised recovery plan: 

- Sports therapists 

- Strength and conditioning specialists  

- Athletic trainers 


Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on enhancing movement and physical function while also managing pain and promoting overall wellness. As a physiotherapist, you can expect to work with people of all ages and conditions, not just athletes. The aim is to address issues including: 

- Musculoskeletal 

- Neurological 

- Cardiorespiratory 

You will pick up a variety of techniques to improve mobility, strength, and quality of life such as: 

- Manual therapy 

- Exercise prescription 

- Modalities (heat and cold therapy) 

A Deeper Look at the Differences

Target Audience: 

Sports Rehabilitation: Primarily targets athletes and active individuals who have sustained injuries related to sports activities. 

Physiotherapy: Addresses a wider range of patients, including those recovering from surgeries, accidents, or various medical conditions. 

Focus on Performance: 

Sports Rehabilitation: Concentrates not only on recovery but also on bettering sports-specific skills and performance after an injury. 

Physiotherapy: While it aims to improve function and movement, its primary focus is on restoring normal day-to-day duties. 

Team Approach: 

Sports Rehabilitation: Often involves collaboration among: 

- Sports therapists 

- Coaches  

- Nutritionists 

Physiotherapy: Tends to work with: 

- Doctors 

- Nurses 

- Healthcare professionals 

To ensure great patient care 

Injury Complexity: 

Sports Rehabilitation: Frequently deals with complex sports injuries that require specialised interventions tailored to the demands of a particular sport. 

Physiotherapy: Addresses a wide range of conditions, from simple musculoskeletal issues to complex neurological disorders.  

Benefits and Contributions

Sports Rehabilitation: 

- Facilitates faster recovery, enabling athletes to return to their sports sooner 

- Enhances sports performance by addressing both the injury and associated performance limitations 

- Reduces the risk of re-injury through targeted exercises and sport-specific training 

- Provides psychological support, helping athletes cope with the mental challenges of recovery. 


- Improves overall quality of life by restoring mobility in day-to-day activities 

- Helps manage chronic pain and prevents further physical deterioration 

- Aids in post-operative recovery, facilitating faster healing and rehabilitation 

- Offers customized exercise programs to promote long-term physical well-being 

What a Day in the Life Looks Like 

Sports Rehabilitator Tasks from Start to Finish:

- Perform initial assessments and evaluations for new clients, including movement analysis and biomechanical assessments. Develop personalised treatment plans and set rehabilitation goals based on assessment findings 

- Conduct one-on-one or group sessions with clients, guiding them through prescribed exercises and interventions 

- Communicate with other healthcare professionals about clients' progress 

- Educate clients about their injuries, rehabilitation process, and injury prevention strategies 

- Perform progress assessments, evaluating clients' improvements 

- Reflect on the day's interactions and plan for tomorrow's sessions, including reviewing upcoming appointments and preparing materials 

The specific tasks and their timing can vary based on your work environment, client load, and individual preferences. Adaptations may also occur due to unexpected changes in emergencies. 

Physiotherapists Tasks from Start to Finish: 

- Prioritise patients based on their needs and severity of conditions 

- Conduct assessments, including evaluating patients' range of motion, strength, posture, and functional abilities; analyse assessment findings to diagnose conditions and develop treatment plans 

- Set goals for the patient's rehabilitation and recovery 

- Begin one-on-one therapy sessions, guiding patients through prescribed exercises, stretches, and therapeutic interventions 

- Use manual therapy techniques 

- Review and update patient records and documentation to accurately reflect the day's assessments and interventions 

Your daily tasks will vary based on your:  

- Specialisation (e.g., orthopaedics, neurology, sports, paediatrics)  

- Work setting (private practice, hospital, sports team) 

- Patient population. 

In the world of injury and recovery, both sports rehabilitation and physiotherapy play crucial roles. By understanding the distinction between the two, you can hopefully make a decision on what route you would like to take. 

Study at the University of Bolton

If this blog has made it clear what route you want to take, the next step is finding where you want to start your future. At the University of Bolton, we offer both a BSc (Hons) Sport Rehabilitation Course and a BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy course depending on what direction you are heading. 

Both courses have great things to offer: 

- State-of-the-art Clinical Simulation Suites and other great facilities in our £31 million Bolton One building 

- Our sports science courses are ranked number one for Student Satisfaction* 

- Strong industry links that can benefit you during your studies 

- Dedicated tutors and lecturers that provide a supportive learning environment 

- A wide range of opportunities for first-hand work experience to prepare you for employment 

- The #UniAsItShouldBe learning experience 

So, what are you waiting for? Find out more about the courses we have to offer by following the link here. 

If you are looking to apply to the University of Bolton, follow this page linked here to find out all the information you need to know on how to successfully be prepared. If you are unsure of what direction to head in, you will also find our quiz that helps to identify your strengths and what areas you are likely to excel in! 

For any further information, contact us at or call us on 01204 903903 and we will be happy to help. 

*Complete University Guide – Student Satisfaction – Northwest – Sports Science -2023 

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We have the answers to your questions, find all the advice and support in one place.

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QQA Scheme Participant