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Physical Therapy vs. Physiotherapy: What Are the Differences?

Physical Therapy vs Physiotherapy

Physical therapy and physiotherapy are often interchangeable terms. While these two practices have many similarities, such as easing pain related to chronic conditions, their differences keep them in separate fields. The names also reflect the countries in which they work, as physical therapists are mostly in the U.S., while you’ll find the profession called physiotherapy in most other English-speaking countries. However, the requirements for certification and credentialing are distinct, with physiotherapy generally requiring a 3-year undergraduate degree in the U.K. (or an apprenticeship), for example, and physical therapy in the U.S. requiring a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree.

Understanding any subtle differences between the two approaches may help you choose which one will best benefit your medical situation, although you are most likely to find practitioners whose methodologies combine the two, and much of your choice will depend on where you live. Read on to learn about physical therapy vs. physiotherapy from our physical therapy experts in Valley Stream, NY, at the Comprehensive Healthcare Group.

How Are Physical Therapy and Physiotherapy Alike?

When you get injured, undergo surgery, or suffer from chronic pain, you may receive a referral or choose to look for a physical therapist or physiotherapist. Physical therapy and physiotherapy provide similar benefits, including:

  • Pain reduction in joints, muscles, and bones
  • Improved mobility
  • A wider range of motion
  • Injury or surgery recovery
  • Enhanced balance
  • Overall better bodily function
  • Improve function and relief pain after an auto accident, work-related or sports injury.

Physical therapists and physiotherapists both use hands-on bodily manipulation and movement techniques to achieve a higher quality of life for their patients. In both practices, the primary goals include renewing energy, bringing patients back into healthy conditions, and improving independent lifestyles. The two use similar treatments to get you moving, including:

Movement Exercises

Patients engage in everyday movements like twisting or lunging to regain normal mobility. These exercises mimic daily activities like putting away groceries, leaning down to tie your shoelaces, or picking something up off the floor.

Strength Training

Specific injuries or health conditions cause muscles to ache, leading to underuse and muscle weakness. You’ll work your muscles during strength training to lift, push, pull, and perform other regular activities.

Whole Body Exercises

Your exercise list may include squats, walking, or other whole-body exercises. These motions build your strength while increasing your mobility.


Water provides mild resistance that builds muscles and may increase bone density. Whether swimming or practicing specific movements in the water, hydrotherapy includes water exercises to help you regain your mobility.

Because physical therapy and physiotherapy share many approaches for physical improvements, most people use the terms interchangeably. 

How Are Physical Therapy and Physiotherapy Different?

Knowing some subtle differences between a physical therapist and a physiotherapist may be helpful.

Physical Therapy

Most patients are referred to a physical therapist by a physician after a workplace injury, after a car accident, or as part of the recovery process after extended bed rest due to an illness or surgery. By working the muscles and joints through exercise routines, patients recover mobility and experience improvements in their joints and limbs. Physical therapists focus on solving joint, muscle, or nerve pain and ensuring smooth and comfortable bodily functions.

Physical Therapy Techniques

Your physical therapist will often practice a combination of in-office therapies with prescribed at-home exercises. Some in-office physical therapy techniques include:

Strength-Building Exercises

Many physical therapists use weights and gym equipment to guide patients as they build strength in particular muscles.

Hot or Cold Therapy

Applying hot or cold packs to painful joints and muscles helps relax them or reduce inflammation. 

Ultrasound Therapy

Ultrasound therapy uses sound waves to lower pain from inflamed muscles or joints. The treatment increases blood flow to the application area, helping induce healing from within your body.

TENS Electrical Stimulation

Using electrodes attached to the skin close to your pain source, your physical therapist sends electricity into your body to reduce or block pain signals to your brain. This form of therapy doesn’t burn or injure your skin, allowing you relief from acute pain without medication or surgery.


Physiotherapists work with patients who suffer from chronic health conditions, injuries, or bodily deformities through manual therapy, including exercise routines, education, and professional guidance. Physical therapists may focus slightly more on strength-building and exercise, while physiotherapists may use more passive approaches. 

Physiotherapy Techniques

Physiotherapists help your body feel better while preparing you for independent movement and mobility. Some physiotherapy techniques include:

Soft Tissue Stimulation

Techniques such as guided stretches and manual massages release stress and pain from your body’s soft tissues. 

Joint Manipulation

By extending and retracting your limbs through physical manipulation, physiotherapists learn the limits your body has placed on your movements and how best to relieve your pain.

Varied Therapy Combinations

Physiotherapy often calls on other therapy techniques to give you the best chance of reducing or eliminating pain and regaining mobility. Some therapies your physiotherapist may employ include:

  • Kinesiology or physical activities to better your health and quality of life
  • Osteopathy, or specific massage or manipulation techniques for particular medical conditions
  • Acupuncture, or the strategic placement of needles to stimulate your nerves

Which Type of Therapy Works Best for Me?

The answer to this question depends on your reason for seeking physical therapy or physiotherapy. If you suffered an injury, illness, or surgery, you’ll often start with more passive therapies like heat or ice, TENS stimulation, soft tissue massage, joint manipulation, or ultrasound therapy to heal your musculoskeletal system and get your body and mind primed for more guided physical exercise-based therapy. Your long-term recovery will depend 

Start Your Journey to Better Mobility and Reduced Pain

Physical Therapist in Valley Stream NY

If you have a chronic health condition, suffer from daily aches and pains, or want to improve your mobility and range of motion, start your journey to better health with our team at Comprehensive Healthcare Group. You’ll find experienced physical therapists, safe treatments, and self-care techniques at our Valley Stream, NY, and Oceanside, NY locations. Call (516) 593-7990 to schedule your appointment with a member of our Comprehensive Health Group team. Our doctors accept most insurance plans, including no-fault and workers’ compensation.

Are you considering physical therapy or physiotherapy for everyday joint aches? Find out if you should see a physical therapist for your injury and/or pain.