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Physical Therapy and Physiotherapy: What is the difference?

Greenwood Physical Therapy Seattle

The terms ‘physical therapy’ and ‘physiotherapy’ are a constant source of questions and confusion from patients to our physical therapy clinics. What are the differences, and what is it that differentiates physiotherapy from physical therapy?

The answer, you may be shocked to learn, is that physical therapy and physiotherapy are exactly the same! There is, in fact, no difference between the two terms and each term can be used interchangeably. They are synonyms.

However, if you were pushed to make a distinction, there could – perhaps – be one small difference between them. And this different is primarily regionally based. In many parts of the world including Australia, Canada, and Europe the profession is known as physiotherapy. Here in the United States we call the profession physical therapy…with one occasional exception.

Some practitioners suggest that physiotherapy is more concerned with manual therapy. That is, the therapist helps to improve the patient’s injury with a hands-on approach; stretching, soft tissue release, joint mobilizations, fascial release, etc. That is in contrast to what some suggest is a more exercise-based approach; instructing patients on exercises to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and sharpen coordination.

As already noted, while the reality is that these terms can be used interchangeably, most clinics here in the United States, may go by the physical therapy. Both terms carry a medical background and focus on the prevention of injury, the improvement of flexibility, and the management of acute pain among others.

Both a physiotherapist and physical therapist treat patients that have suffered an injury, though the most common reasons for patients to come to our Seattle clinics are for back and neck pain, injuries from accidents, sports injuries, joint immobility and tendon/ligament issues like carpal tunnel syndrome.

Lastly, regardless of the name, physical therapists are focused on improving the lifestyle of those with chronic conditions.

Here at GPT we go by the term physical therapy. Our clinical staff employ a variety of treatment approaches including exercised-based and manual-based (as well as others). This gives us the ability to address your problem with an individualized treatment approach that is right for you.


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