Are Physiotherapy and Physical Therapy the Same Thing?

If you are having pain that limits your ability to perform your normal work and recreational activities, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist (PT) to help you recover. Your PT can use various treatments, manipulations, and exercises to help you regain range of motion, strength, and mobility.

If you're in the United States, you will see a physical therapist, while in many other parts of the world, you would likely see a physiotherapist, also known as a physio.

So is there a difference between a physiotherapist and a physical therapist? For the most part, the words "physiotherapy" and "physical therapy" are used interchangeably. But there are some subtle differences between the two.

A person doing physiotherapy and a person doing physical therapy (Physical Therapy vs. Physiotherapy)

Verywell / Zoe Hansen

Physical Therapy Is More "Physical"

In the United States, healthcare workers who have successfully completed a physical therapy education and training are called physical therapists. In general, they are healthcare practitioners who utilize a variety of treatments and modalities to help their patients recover after injury. Compared to other rehabilitation professionals around the world, physical therapists in America are more likely to use exercise as their main form of treatment. Physiotherapists also use exercise, but they are more likely to employ passive treatments like stretching or massage as well.

Exercise tends to be the main focus of treatment for PTs because exercise has been proven to help you move better and feel better. After an injury, the correct exercise—with the correct frequency and intensity and in the correct direction—can help you recover fully.

"Physiotherapy" Is a Term Used in Ireland and Australia

If you live in areas of the world other than the United States, you may have visited a physiotherapist for rehab after an injury or to help you return home after a hospitalization. In Canada, Australia, and Ireland, rehab professionals who help people move better and feel better after injury or illness are called physiotherapists.

Physiotherapy Uses Stimulation

Many physiotherapists around the world use electrical stimulation to help their patients decrease pain and improve blood flow. (Some PTs in the United States also use electrical stimulation but, in general, its use is less prevalent in recent years in America.)

Physios may use other forms of treatment like acupuncture, in which small, thin needles are placed into the body to stimulate nerves. In the United States, physical therapists sometimes use dry needling, which is a technique in which the needles are inserted into a muscle knot. This causes tiny twitches in the muscle and can be used to treat painful muscle tension.

Physiotherapists and PTs Work in Hospitals

Abroad, most physios work in hospital settings. They may help patients who are hospitalized, or they may be working in outpatient clinics that are affiliated with a large hospital system.

In the United States, some physical therapists work in hospitals, but they may also work in other settings. Physical therapists in the states can be found in stand-alone outpatient clinics, schools, nursing homes, or in cardiac rehab centers. A therapist may also come to your home if you qualify. (To qualify, you may need to prove medical necessity). They are more likely to be owners of their own PT clinic as compared to their foreign counterparts.


If you are injured, have surgery, or are ill and cannot move or function normally due to pain, loss of range of motion, or decreased strength, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist or physiotherapist.

Rehabilitation professionals in the United States are called physical therapists, while outside the United States, they may be referred to as physiotherapists. In general, both physical therapists and physiotherapists perform similar interventions. The main goal of each remains the same: to help you move better and feel better after injury.

A Word From Verywell

Properly recovering after injury is an important aspect of maintaining long-term health and well-being. Working with a physical therapist or physiotherapist can help ensure that you're doing the right exercises at the appropriate frequency and intensity. Reach out to your insurance company to see what therapists are in your network.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Egan M, Seeger D, Schöps P. Physiotherapie und physikalische Therapie in der SchmerzmedizinSchmerz. 2015;29(5):562-568. doi:10.1007/s00482-015-0043-z 

  3. Dommerholt J. Dry needling—peripheral and central considerationsJ Man Manip Ther. 2011;19(4), 223-227. doi:10.1179/106698111X13129729552065

  4. Freene N, Cools S, Bissett B. Are we missing opportunities? Physiotherapy and physical activity promotion: a cross-sectional surveyBMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2017;9(1):19. doi:10.1186/s13102-017-0084-y

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.