Physiotherapy Vs Physical Therapy: Similarities And Differences

All over the world, comparing physiotherapy vs physical therapy has aroused interest in medical field. Some books, journals, or articles have concluded that these 2 therapies are the same and even use them as synonyms sometimes. In America, the term “physical therapy” is used to describe what people outside the US would call “physiotherapy”.

However, although the both therapies are similar in so many ways, there are also areas or factors that differentiate them. In this article, we will be considering the similarities and differences between the 2 therapies and by the time you are done reading, you will be able to tell if they are the same or if they differ.


Physiotherapy is a specialized treatment used to restore and maintain patient’s mobility, wellbeing and function by treating the disease or injury causing the patient’s deformity, using physical methods such as massage, joint manipulation, health and fitness techniques instead of drugs and surgery. It could also be an approach to remedy a post-surgery effect.

All these services are provided by a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist is a professional healthcare provider, who specializes in science, management, and prevention of pain, injury, disability and impairment. They are taught on how to identify the root cause of an injury and how to manipulate it into ensuring a patient’s wellbeing.

There are different specializations under physiotherapy, and they all depend on the various condition a physiotherapist attends to, such as neck and back pain, joint and muscle problems, pelvic issues, loss of mobility, lung problems, and so many other conditions.

Types Of Physiotherapy 

Creating room for physiotherapists to focus on managing and treating a particular condition not only makes it easier for physiotherapists but also makes the work they do to have a much better effective result. Below is a list of the different areas a physiotherapist can specialize in, and their uses:

1. Neurological Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists who specialize in this area treat patients who suffer from nervous and neurological disorders such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, brain injury, concussions, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Orthopedic Physiotherapy

It is a medical specialty, concerned with the correction of deformities, or functional impairment of the skeletal system. Orthopedic physiotherapists focus on increasing mobilization by rectifying, repairing, and treating deformities and ailments related to the muscoskeletal system, which includes correcting muscle ligaments, bones, joints, and tendons.

3. Cardiopulmonary Physiotherapy

Patients who suffer from cardiopulmonary disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute asthma, acute chest infection and trauma, cystic fibrosis, and post-myocardial infarction, will require the services of a cardiopulmonary physiotherapist. This type of physiotherapy specializes in the prevention, and rehabilitation of patients with injuries in the heart and lungs.

4. Pediatric Physiotherapy

This is a special form of physiotherapy that is concerned with treating acute injuries and defects in children and youths, from birth till when they are about 25 years of age. It also handles certain genetic defects such as cerebral palsy.

5. Geriatric Physiotherapy

There are so many other areas of specialty not written in this article.



1. Manual Therapy

A manual therapy is a technique a physiotherapist uses, whereby they manipulate and mobilize affected joints by massaging the patient with their hands.

2. Joint Mobilization

This is a type of manual therapy technique. The physiotherapist mobilizes the joints of patients, by massaging at different speeds, depths, and amplitudes to restore the joint’s movement.

3. Minimal Energy Technique (METs)

This is another form of manual therapy, however, in this case, the physiotherapist uses autogenic or reciprocal inhibition to relax and lengthen the muscles.

4. Dry Needling and Acupuncture

This is a pain relieving technique whereby special types of fine needles are inserted into specific areas in the body where the pain is generating from, however, this is only for a short period.

5. Stretches and Exercises

To help their injured patients, a physiotherapist could use this technique. It involves teaching patients different forms of exercises and body stretching techniques that could help restore their normal joint movements.

6. Taping 

This technique helps to speed up the patient’s healing process by increasing the space between the skin and its connective tissues so that lymphatic fluid could move more effectively. A physiotherapist does this by using a tape to lift the skin.

7. Soft Tissue Mobilization

This is another form of manual therapy, also known as therapeutic massage. The technique helps in relaxing tight muscles, relieving pain, and reducing swelling.

Note: A physiotherapist could sometimes use other treatment techniques such as osteopathy, or kinesiology.


Physical therapy is a specialized medical care that aims to ease muscle and joint pains and improve physical functions through the use of various techniques. A specialist in physical therapy is known as a physical therapist.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a physical therapist is a trained and licensed medical professional with experience in diagnosing physical abnormalities, restoring physical functions and mobility, maintaining physical function, and promoting physical activity and proper function. 

Physical therapy mainly implores the use of exercising to strengthen the muscles, improve balance and help with coordination, which is of great benefit, especially to the elderly as this can reduce their chances of getting themselves injured in the future.


Physical Exercise

Just as we have said, physical therapy mainly implores the use of exercise. Physical therapists teach their patients different forms of exercises to help contract, relax and increase mobility to their injured or affected parts, and they can get back to their everyday movements in no time.

1. Hot and Cold Therapies

For both chronic and acute conditions, physical therapy treatment can involve the use of ice, cold packs, nitrogen in aerosols, and even cryogenics to alleviate or improve those conditions. Whereas, hot packs, infrared heat, and diathermy are specifically used in the treatment of chronic conditions.

2. Ultrasound Treatment

This is a heat treatment that is used to reduce inflammation by inducing deep heat in the affected area.

3. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Therapy

It is a technique used in temporarily treating acute and chronic pain. It involves the use of a small battery-driven device to send low-grade current through the skin. The device is placed on the skin, near the source generating the pain.

4. Neuromuscular Re-education

The aim of this technique is to reteach patients on how to have voluntary muscle control in cases of atrophy, injury, or pathology.


The similarities between physiotherapy and physical therapy makes a lot of people think they are the same thing. Kindly note that both physiotherapy and physical therapy are aimed at helping patients to recover from an injury, or relieve pain.


In researching on physiotherapy and physical therapy , we realised that these two therapies have been looked individually, and we can tell that from their techniques, there is a difference, although both have the aim of relieving pain and helping patients return to normalcy. Below are the differences between the two therapies:

1. Work Place

A physiotherapist and a physical therapist do not share the same workspace. While you will find a physiotherapist in hospitals, public and private clinics, and various rehabilitation centres including post-surgery facilities, you will find physical therapists usually in private clinics, gyms, special treatment facilities, sports, and private rehabilitation facilities.

2. Qualifications

Different qualifications are required in different regions and countries. However, to be a physical therapist in the US, according to APTA, you must have earned a doctorate or a physical therapy degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education which is accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam. Physiotherapists on the other hand undergo at least a 4 years training program, outside the US.


The purpose of physiotherapy and physical therapy is to improve health by relieving pain, relaxing the muscles, and improving flexibility, although different approaches are used in achieving this. 

However, sometimes it doesn’t matter the differences, depending on your region or country. If you are injured, have a surgery, or are ill and cannot function normally due to the pain, loss of motion, or decreased strength, you will benefit from the skilled services of either a physiotherapist or a physical therapist, as sometimes the terms are interchanged.

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