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Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy

Physiotherapy vs Physical Therapy


Physiotherapy and physical therapy are two terms often used interchangeably, but they can have specific approaches to rehab and wellness. With my experience as an outpatient nurse in the US, I can confidently say I’m more familiar with patients being referred to physical therapy by their doctors and rarely physiotherapy. But that’s just my experience…

While both of these disciplines focus on restoring movement and function post-injury (or the like), the healing modalities used and the overall view of the patient can be fairly unique. Some experts may argue that they are the same in many aspects. Let’s sift through the info!

Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference?

While there are subtle differences between physiotherapy and physical therapy, the one you will usually hear more frequently depends on the region you live in. Often you will hear physiotherapy in areas such as Canada, Australia, and Europe. In the United States, you will more commonly hear of people being referred to physical therapy.

In a general perspective, both disciplines focus on restoring movement and function through exercises, manual therapy, and patient education. We will explore more about what types of healing modalities they each use in the following sections. 

Major differences may include:

  • Physiotherapy uses more hands-on interventions (by using massage or stretching, etc.)
  • Physical therapy typically uses exercise as a main intervention
  • Training and background of the practitioner
  • Specialty depending on the region they practice in

Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy: Training and Background

In an article published in the International Journal of Education and Information Technology, it is explained, “Physical therapy or Physiotherapy often abbreviated as PT is an active healthcare occupation that aims to help the individuals with the achievement, maintenance and restoration of maximal physical functioning and health throughout their lifetimes.” [1] More simply put, it was also described as the art and science of physical care and rehabilitation

Additionally, Both therapies can have specialties within the practice such as:

  • Sports
  • Neurology
  • Wound Care
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Geriatrics
  • and more [1] 

Physiotherapy Training:

Often this will depend on the country you live in but usually, a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is required. Subjects are covered in depth regarding anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, therapeutic techniques, and more. Just like most healthcare professions, practical experience is required and then they go on to complete certification or licensing exams. 

Physical Therapy Training:

You may see a physical therapist who has completed a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, and (just like physiotherapy) go through training in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and related topics. Clinical hours in multiple healthcare settings and residency programs are also a route they may take. 


therapist using KT tape Physiotherapy vs physical therapy


Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy:  Techniques Used

Some common techniques used in physiotherapy:

  • Manual therapy (using hands to mobilize soft tissue)
  • Kinesio taping
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Electrotherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Fascial release

Some of the common techniques that physical therapists use:

  • Exercise
  • Joint mobilization
  • Traction
  • Ice and heat
  • Stretching exercises
  • Gait training

It’s important to note that the above list is not all-inclusive. As mentioned earlier, there may be some overlap in techniques while differences typically occur because of the region of practice, specialty, or methods chosen by the practitioners themselves. 

Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy FAQ

Is there a difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy?

From a general perspective, there is no difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy. These terms are often used interchangeably but you will hear one more than the other depending on what country you live in. This in turn will also lead to a slight change in techniques and healing modalities that your practitioner may choose to use. 

What exactly does a physiotherapist do?

As stated in a published article, it is “the art and science of physical care and rehabilitation… the area of health responsible for promoting, developing, maintaining and restoring people’s maximum movement and functional ability throughout their lives.” [1] As they cover a wide range of specialties and work in various healthcare settings, they incorporate interventions such as exercise and joint mobilization to help their patients reach their goals. 

What is physiotherapy called in the US?

Physiotherapy is often referred to as physical therapy in the US. 

What is the difference between a kinesiotherapist and a physical therapist?

If you look at the root word, kinesiology means the study of movement. While kinesiotherapists use exercise as their main modality for rehab, physical therapists also incorporate other techniques (in addition to exercise) such as manual therapy. There may be some overlap in their roles or place of work. 

Overall, a kinesiotherapist may be more fitting if your needs involve reaching fitness goals or something related (mobility, strength, etc.) Physical therapists are often seen if you have an injury or medical condition.  

Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy: Got Muscle Aches?

You may be inclined to see what options you have if you suffer from body aches, trigger points, or tight/stiff muscles. You can easily see a professional masseuse as an initial intervention because oftentimes you would need a referral from your primary physician before seeing a physical therapist in the US. 

My father has experienced numerous aches and pains in his body (neck, back, elbow and arm) for the past 5 years and was referred to physical therapy every time by his primary care doctor. This entailed ultrasound therapy and mobility exercises once a week - with much success. 

Depending on where your muscle ache is located, you can try the QL Claw as an easy at-home massage tool that you can use anytime - particularly for back and hip pain. We have multiple resources to show how to use it and the awesome reviews to back it up! 

Check out our page on how the QL Claw is the best back massager for knots

Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy Conclusion

Hopefully, this short post has brought some clarity to the question of physiotherapy vs. physical therapy! Depending on what factors you’re looking at, they can easily be thought of as the same thing. 

Yes, physiotherapy can entail a more (seemingly) holistic approach if you focus on the modalities used (manual therapy, education, etc.) while physical therapy focuses on exercises and getting your mobility back on track. Overall, the needs and goals are tailored to your specific situation to help you regain your health and well-being! 


[1] Khalid, M., Sarwar, M., Sarwar, M.H., Sarwar, M. Current role of physiotherapy in response to changing healthcare needs of the society. International Journal of Education and Information Technology, 2015. 

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