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Physiotherapy Vs Physical Therapy: Are They The Same Thing?

Have you ever gotten yourself in a position where your ability to perform normal or recreational activities was hampered? If yes, chances are you’ve been referred to the services of a physiotherapist. That said, have you ever asked yourself what exactly physiotherapy is? When talking about physiotherapy vs physical therapy, is there any difference? Keep reading to find out.


What Is Physiotherapy?

Short answer? Physiotherapy is a profession that deals with restoration of function and movement when someone gets injured, falls ill or becomes disabled. 

So physiotherapists will ideally help people affected by illness, injury or disability through physical methods like (6):

  • Massage
  • Joint manipulation
  • Techniques outside of surgery or drugs

One of the vital aspects of physiotherapy is that a holistic approach is used when it comes to treatment and wellbeing. In essence, it focuses on the whole person, including their general lifestyle and health.

This means the primary goal of physiotherapists is helping people stay active members of society and as independent as possible.

Types Of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is quite a broad field consisting of different branches. To help clear things up, we’ve put together a comprehensive explanation of the different types of physiotherapy one can receive. They include:

Geriatric Physiotherapy

It’s only natural for our metabolism to slow down as we grow older. In fact, several underlying health issues start becoming more pronounced (1).

Geriatric physiotherapy is a branch of physiotherapy that helps prevent or manage existing symptoms due to the aging process. It essentially helps you maintain your overall health in your later years (7).

Geriatric physiotherapy will also help you use your muscles in a way that increases your work efficiency. The best part, however, is that your risk of injuries in old age will also be significantly reduced (7).

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Some of the health advantages of Geriatric physiotherapy include (7):

  • Improving bad posture
  • Restoring strength, mobility and endurance
  • Reducing chronic pain
  • Enabling work with few physical limitations
  • Improving health and fitness

Pediatric Physiotherapy

Most of the vital pediatric services administered to infants and children can sometimes go unnoticed. However, these services are usually key to improved growth and development of the child, both physically and mentally.

Pediatric physiotherapy is one of the most important boosters for the healthy development of a child.

Sure, taking your young one to a physiotherapist may not be the first thing that comes to mind. At the end of the day though, remember doing this comes with several health benefits including (8):

  • Helps in dealing with congenital disabilities, genetic disorders and developmental delays
  • Improving motor skills
  • Helps in recovering from sports injuries, head trauma and pain.
  • Improving motor skills
  • Helps in the normalization of movement
  • Development of strength, endurance and balance

physiotherapy vs physical therapy

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Pulmonary/ Vascular/ Cardiorespiratory Physiotherapy

This discipline is sometimes known as chest physiotherapy. It is particularly useful in individuals suffering from illnesses of conditions related to the lungs, heart and chest (8).

The treatment procedure can also be used to aid in the rehabilitation of people suffering from cardiac arrest or a range of chronic pulmonary disorders.

Some of the advantages of cardiorespiratory physiotherapy include (8):

  • Helps in the management of chronic coughs and shortness of breath
  • Helps in navigating circulatory and breathing exercises
  • It positions you for optimal lung expansion
  • Beneficial for resistance training
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Sports Physiotherapy

This treatment procedure is entirely dedicated to sports professionals and athletes.

The specialists have unique expertise on the type of strain seen in individuals that play different sports. As a result, they work closely with them in a bid to decrease tension on your muscles for each particular game.

Some of the advantages of sports physiotherapy include (8):

  • Progressive injury management
  • Prevention of injury in sports
  • Movement assessments
  • Healing encouraging techniques

Vestibular Rehabilitation

Vestibular physiotherapy primarily focuses on the rehabilitation of your total body balance

Specialists practicing it will help in realigning your body, therefore increasing overall physical function. In addition to that you may also end up having a sturdier body build.

Body balance plays a key role in our daily activities, which means it should always be a priority in determining health and vitality. Vestibular rehabilitation explores the health of your inner ear which is important for your body’s balance. Leaving it unattended could result in vertigo, chronic dizziness, and other conditions (4).

physiotherapy vs physical therapy

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy

This discipline is sometimes known as orthopedic physiotherapy. It usually deals with the restoration of complete and unhindered function to the musculoskeletal system. Your musculoskeletal system consists of your bones, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and joints.

Some of the advantages of musculoskeletal physiotherapy include (8):

  • Alleviate pain
  • Increase mobilization
  • Rectifying injuries
  • Alignment of the musculoskeletal system
  • Treatment of soft tissue damage

Neurological Physiotherapy

Neurological physiotherapy helps in tackling conditions related to your nervous system. These conditions can range from head injuries, strokes to chronic diseases like Parkinson’s disease and sciatica. This therapy has been shown to help people cope and deal with these disorders (8).

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Neurological physiotherapy can also help an individual regain lost mobility. In addition to that, it is known to reduce the risk of diseases stemming from neuromuscular systems (8).

Some of the advantages of neurological physiotherapy include (8):

  • Improving motor control, hand to eye coordination and balance
  • Increased sensation
  • Helps in rebuilding neural pathways
  • Kinetic link training
  • Soft tissue treatment
  • Rehabilitation after brain surgery

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Female-Centric Physiotherapy

Female-centric physiotherapy ideally focuses on the female reproductive system, its functions and various issues.

The process is responsible for aiding the process of childbirth by easing the process and also provides essential prenatal and postnatal care. Finally, it can also be useful in addressing fertility issues in women (8).

Other advantages of female-centric physiotherapy include (8):

  • Improved core strength
  • Control of urinary functions
  • Activation of the pelvic floor
  • Pain relief for pregnant women
  • Kegel-centric exercises for a controlled childbirth

Pain Management And Rehabilitation Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists are particularly skilled in eliminating unwanted pains in your body through their vast knowledge of body movements. The customized treatments can ensure the pain doesn’t come back.

This type of physiotherapy can also help one to cope with pre-surgery and post-surgery pain. Usually before the surgery, the physiotherapists will focus on body strengthening exercises that reduce damages and recovery period. Gentle activities that increase mobility will then be introduced post-surgery.

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What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a discipline in healthcare that is designed to (5):

  • Ease pain
  • Improve mobility
  • Enable one’s body to function optimally in day-to-day life.

It is most commonly used in patients who are actively recovering from surgeries or injuries. However, it can also be used in managing painful conditions or simply improving things like balance.

Providers of this service – physical therapists (PTs) – and usually well trained and licensed by relevant medical authorities in their countries. For instance, PTs in the United States are required to have a doctor of physical therapy from an accredited education program then pass a state licensing exam. 

They are also particularly experienced in (5):

  • Diagnosing physical abnormalities
  • Maintaining physical functions
  • Restoring physical function and mobility
  • Promoting physical activities

All that being said, there’s still an air of mystery surrounding physiotherapy and physical therapy. Just how different are the two disciplines? Next, we answer this question and more.

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physiotherapy vs physical therapy

Is Physiotherapy And Physical Therapy Similar?

Physiotherapy and physical therapy are terms that are often used interchangeably, and rightly so. It’s true that you may be able to distinguish between the 2 principles. However, the differences are usually not things that fundamentally affect the core of the practices.

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Depending on the geographical locations, below are some of the differences between physiotherapy and physical therapy:

The Approach

It’s true that both methods use movement and hands-on techniques when improving the body’s condition. However, there’s a slight difference in their approach when doing this.

Physiotherapy primarily employs the use of manual therapies while physical therapy is more exercise-based. In addition to that, several physiotherapists have been known to use electric simulation. This technique significantly reduces pain while improving blood flow in their patients (3).

Other forms of treatment like acupuncture are also used by physiotherapists. It involves sticking small, thin needles into your body to stimulate nerves.

Physical therapists on the other hand sometimes use dry needling. The technique involves inserting needles into a muscle knot. This causes tiny twitching in the muscles to treat painful muscle tension (2).

Ultimately they’ll both be able to attain similar goals using different forms of treatment.

The Setting

Physiotherapy is largely hospital based, often showing up in post-op care and other urgent situations. On the other hand, physical therapy is more often employed in non-threatening injuries. A physical therapist will usually focus on treating problems like:

  • Strains
  • Injuries
  • Muscle aches
  • Chronic movement issues like arthritis

The Bottom Line

Physiotherapy and physical therapy and both important restorative medical techniques. While it’s true that both terms are often used interchangeably, they do have a few minor differences. However, both methods are just as effective in achieving their goals.

Finally, before opting for either of the two methods, ensure that you first consult with your physician.



This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. Body composition changes with aging: The cause or the result of alterations in metabolic rate and macronutrient oxidation? (2009,
  2. Dry needling – peripheral and central considerations (2013,
  3. Electrical Stimulation (n.d.,
  4. Inner ear symptoms and disease: Pathophysiological understanding and therapeutic options (2013,
  5. Physical Therapy (2021,
  6. Physiotherapy (n.d.,
  7. Physiotherapy in geriatrics – its significance in overall treatment management (2019,
  8. Types of Physiotherapy (2020,