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  • Writer's pictureMiracle Rehab Clinic

What is The Difference Between Physiotherapy & Physical Therapy

There are ongoing questions and queries among patients regarding the physiotherapy vs. physical therapy debate.

And it’s no surprise because these two therapy types are quite similar and can confuse many. Especially when researching different websites, books, or journals.

People often use the terms as synonyms though and, in many cases, it ends up being just fine for their purposes.

However, even though physiotherapy and physical therapy overlap in many aspects, there are several differences.

To get the best care and results it’s important to know the difference and choose wisely.

Let us weigh in and finally settle the physiotherapy vs. physical therapy question. We hope that by the end of the article you have a clearer idea of what kind of therapy you should pursue.

Physical therapy definition

Physical therapy is medical care that aims to ease pain and help a person function, move, and live better.

Specialists use it to relieve pain, improve movement or ability, prevent or recover from a sports injury, surgery, accident, and in other similar situations.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a physical therapist is a trained and licensed medical professional with experience diagnosing physical abnormalities, restoring physical function and mobility, maintaining physical function, and promoting physical activity and proper function. To find out about all the different kinds of physical therapy click here.

Physiotherapy definition

Experts define physiotherapy as treating disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, joint manipulation, and other techniques instead of drugs or surgery (when possible).

Physiotherapists help people who experience injury, illness, or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice.

It's important to note that physiotherapy takes the "whole person" approach to wellbeing and treatment, which means it looks at a person's general lifestyle and health.

Altogether, physiotherapists and their treatments allow people to stay independent in their lives and be an active member of society as much as possible.

The difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy

"Is physiotherapy the same as physical therapy?" is a common and warranted question.

Depending on a situation (and who you ask), the difference sometimes is just regional terminology. Places like Australia, Canada, and Europe use the term physiotherapy mostly, and in the U.S., the profession is called physical therapy.

However, there's a little bit more to it.

The main difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy is the approach.

Physiotherapy focuses more on manual, hands-on therapy such as soft tissue and fascial releases, stretches, massages, etc.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, takes a more exercise-based approach. The professionals educate patients about exercises for muscle strength, coordination, balance, and others.

Physio vs. Physical Therapy Focus

To keep things simple, we can also look at these two therapy branches through their focus on treatment.

  • Physiotherapy focuses mainly on hospital work, such as post-operative care and other urgent situations.

  • Physical therapy focuses mostly on the treatment of non-threatening injuries. The experts usually specialize in assessing and treating musculoskeletal problems such as muscle aches, pains, strains, injuries, and chronic movement issues, e.g., arthritis.

Let's look into some types of therapies and techniques that physical therapy professionals use to treat their patients.

  • Physical Exercise Physical therapists teach patients different exercises to contract, relax, and increase mobility to the injured or affected parts. This technique helps to get back to the most common and everyday movements, and patients can practice it at home.

  • Hot and Cold Therapies The physical therapy treatments use nitrogen in aerosols, ice, or cold packs and cryogenics to alleviate chronic and acute conditions. Hot packs, diathermy, and infrared heat are used to treat chronic conditions.

  • Ultrasound Treatment Reduces inflammation by inducing deep heat in the affected area.

  • TENS Electrical Stimulation Technique It's used to treat chronic and acute pain. According to, electrodes are placed on the skin near the source of the pain. Signals are sent through nerve fibers to block or reduce the pain signals traveling to the brain.

  • Neuromuscular Reeducation Aims at voluntary muscle control in cases of atrophy, injury, or pathology.

Physiotherapy Techniques

As mentioned before, physiotherapy uses more, though not exclusively, manual therapy. These are techniques where a physiotherapist uses their hands to manipulate, mobilize, and massage the body tissues.

They help relieve pain and stiffness, improve blood circulation, movement, and promote relaxation.

Physiotherapists take a holistic approach and use these manual techniques:

  • Massage is used to stimulate the soft tissues in your body to relieve pain, improve circulation, and relax.

  • Soft Tissue Techniques like stretching, myofascial release serves a similar purpose to a massage.

  • Joint Mobilization and Joint Manipulation are therapies when the gliding of the joint is usually used to improve motion and joint function as well as control pain.

  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilization (PIM) is a manual therapy technique performed with the assistance of handcrafted instruments.

  • Minimal Energy Techniques (METs) is a form of manual therapy that uses muscle's own energy to relax the muscles via autogenic or reciprocal inhibition and lengthen the muscle.

Finally, physiotherapy sometimes includes other treatments such as can osteopathy, acupuncture, or kinesiology.

Work Environment

There is also a difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy specialist work environments.

In most cases, physiotherapists work in hospitals, public or private clinics, various rehabilitation, and post-surgery facilities.

Physical therapists usually only practice in private clinics, working with clients personally, in gyms, special treatment facilities, sports, and private rehabilitation facilities.


Various movements and exercises help improve a person's mobility and function. Most of them are easy to perform at home or in a personal capacity after receiving education from a therapist.

  • Movement and Strength Exercises for a specific part of the body and repeated for a set amount of time

  • Whole-Body Exercises such as swimming, walking, and particular sequences.

  • Hydrotherapy covers water exercises that help relax and support the muscles and joints while also building strength.


Depending on the region and country, different qualifications will be required for physical therapists and physiotherapists.

According to, to practice as a physical therapist in the U.S., a person must earn a doctor of physical therapy degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist education program and pass a state licensure exam.

Outside of the U.S., physiotherapists undergo at least four years of training.

Final Conclusion

There's no doubt that there is no clear cut line in the physio vs. physical therapy debate. Both focus on preventing injury, improving flexibility, and managing pain.

However, based on the differences outlined here, patients can decide what works best for them in their specific situation.

The most important part is choosing a highly qualified and trusted practitioner and getting a personal situation assessment. Contact Miracle Rehab Clinic to find a team of professionals ready to help you.

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