Physiotherapists are often asked what the difference is between physiotherapy and biokinetics. A careful response to this question is important so that the difference is highlighted without perpetuating any existing misunderstanding.

The difference between Physiotherapy and Biokinetics

A Physiotherapist, according to the South African Health Professional Board, will assess, treat and manage a wide variety of injuries by means of hands-on, manual techniques. These techniques include soft tissue release, mobilisation, manipulation and dry needling, as well as electrotherapy modalities. Physiotherapists specialise in a variety of medical fields, such as orthopaedics, neurology, respiratory, cardiovascular, obstetrics, sports medicine, paediatrics, geriatrics, intensive care units and general rehabilitation.

When a patient sustains an injury, a physiotherapist will assess and treat the injury. The goal is to restore normal pain-free movement and start the initial phase of rehabilitation to help the patient get back to point of daily activity and sports.

A Biokineticist‘s primary function is to improve physical functioning and health care through exercise. According to the very same Board, this professional treats people with a variety of sports injuries using exercise therapy based on scientific evidence. This kind of rehabilitation is applicable for people with chronic disease, sports injuries and diseases of lifestyle. In addition, a biokineticist will promote health & wellness, seek to maintain a patient’s physical abilities, as well as provide a specialised physical activity programme.

As you will read further down, biokinetics focuses on final phase rehabilitation and prescriptive exercise programmes to balance muscle strength and length. This treatment does not, however, include hands-on manual techniques, such as those noted above.

What is the goal of sports rehab therapy?

Both physiotherapy and biokinetics are involved in sports rehab therapy, which seeks to limit the loss of acute injury or chronic disease, as well as to help promote recovery and fitness and performance. Musculoskeletal injuries are a predictable result of participating in sports activities. Rehabilitation should start as soon as possible after an injury happens. The treatment of an injured athlete is ideally managed by a multi-disciplinary programme of both physiotherapy and biokinetics.

Understanding the different stages of rehabilitation will help to put the difference between the roles played by a Physiotherapist and a Biokineticist into perspective. Hereunder is a concise, but clear guide about how these health professions work hand-in-hand.

Stage 1- Initial Stage of Rehabilitation

The body’s initial response to an injury is inflammation. The objectives of treatment at this phase include limiting tissue damage, managing pain and alleviating inflammation. At the same time, the Physio needs to protect the affected area of a patient’s anatomy. A Physiotherapist is usually the professional in charge of this phase, as well as the intermediate stage.

Stage 2 – Intermediate Stage of Rehabilitation

The goal during this phase of rehabilitation includes limiting any further damage and helping a patient to recover from their injury. Exercise to regain flexibility, strength, endurance, balance and co-ordination become the central component of this treatment programme.

Stage 3 – Advanced Stage of Rehabilitation

This phase of rehab represents the start of the conditioning process an athlete needs to return to sports training and competition. It is essential that such therapy and training are sufficiently dynamic to prepare the patient for a return to the demands of the game. The biokineticist is usually the professional in charge of this phase.

This article was submitted by Jenilee Fortein who practises at the Douglasdale branch of Lamberti Physiotherapy. If you have a recent sports injury, contact Jenilee by completing this appointment form to request an assessment and treatment.




  1. Biokinetics Association of South Africa
  2. HPCSA
  3. Sports Injury Clinic– Rehabilitation and Exercises