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The Difference Between Physiotherapy and Physical Therapy

The Difference Between Physiotherapy and Physical Therapy

If you have been looking for different ways to manage your pain, you might have encountered the terms physiotherapy and physical therapy. You might have even asked yourself, “Are physical therapy and physiotherapy the same thing?”

Although both physiotherapy and physical therapy are used interchangeably or in close proximity to one another, they are not the same. These two fields are very similar, but they have major differences that can change the outcome for every patient.

What is Physiotherapy?

Before discussing the key differences of the approaches, let’s first discuss what physiotherapy is. Physiotherapy can be defined as the use of interventions, services, and advice to restore, improve, and maintain a patient’s function and movement. Different techniques are utilised to ensure the quality of patients’ lives. Physiotherapy services are also used to treat a disease, injury, or deformity by using various physical methods without the need for drugs or surgery.

One of the main factors that differentiate physiotherapy vs. physical therapy is that the former takes a holistic approach to a patient’s treatment and well-being. Physiotherapists focus on the patient’s whole body, including their lifestyle and general health.

What is Physical Therapy?

Similar to physiotherapy, physical therapy is designed to help individuals manage their pain, improve mobility and function, and enhance their quality of life. This treatment is often done on people who are recovering from an injury or surgery, experiencing pain, and want to improve their balance and other skills.

Physical therapists are trained in assessing and caring for issues involving the musculoskeletal system. These include strains, injuries, chronic movement issues, and surgery.

physical therapy

What is the Difference Between Physiotherapy and Physical Therapy?

When comparing physio vs. physical therapy, you might think that they are the same because both practices use movement and hands-on techniques to help patients manage their physical issues. So, is there really a difference between physiotherapy and physical therapy?

The main difference between physiotherapy and physical therapy is the approach professionals use when treating patients. Physiotherapy focuses on using manual therapies to improve an individual’s condition while physical therapy relies more on exercises.

These treatments are also practiced in different settings. Physiotherapists work in hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation facilities, often assisting patients who have undergone surgeries or are dealing with urgent conditions. Meanwhile, physical therapists usually work in private clinics, gyms, and rehabilitation facilities to treat patients dealing with non-threatening conditions, such as muscle aches, pains, and strains.

Types of Techniques Used

Now that you’ve learned the answer to the question “Is physiotherapy the same as physical therapy,” let’s discuss the different techniques used for these treatments. Depending on the approach, different techniques are used in physiotherapy vs. physical therapy. Here is a list of some of the techniques used in each field:


Physiotherapists use their hands in different techniques to improve a patient’s movement, circulation, and pain. The main techniques used in physiotherapy include the following:



Different massage techniques are used by physiotherapists to stimulate a patient’s soft tissues. This method helps relieve pain, improve circulation, and relax the individual’s body.

Soft Tissue Techniques

Similar to massage, soft tissue techniques are used in physiotherapy sessions to break down scar tissue, improve circulation, and reduce pain in the individual’s body. This method includes stretching and myofascial release, which are designed to release the tension in the patient’s muscles.

Joint Mobilisation and Manipulation

One of the main reasons individuals seek physiotherapy treatment is to control their pain by improving their range of motion and increasing joint function. To achieve this, physiotherapists use different joint mobilisation and manipulation techniques, including flexion, extension, lateral movements, and rotation.

Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation

Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation or PIM is a technique used by physiotherapists for soft-tissue treatment. This method involves the use of mechanical instruments with bevelled edges and contours that are often made of stainless steel. The shapes of these instruments are made to conform to patients’ different body parts for deeper penetration.

Minimal Energy Techniques

Minimal Energy Techniques or METs is a type of manual treatment that uses a muscle’s energy to relax it by using autogenic or reciprocal inhibition while also lengthening the muscle. This technique is a type of active stretching wherein the patient actively participates instead of letting their physiotherapist do all the work.

Other Techniques

Aside from the methods listed above, physiotherapists also use the following to treat their patients:

  • Osteopathy: This technique is focused on manipulating the body’s musculoskeletal system to improve a patient’s movement and function.
  • Acupuncture: This is an ancient Chinese practice that uses needles to stimulate the body’s pressure points and relieve pain.
  • Kinesiology: This approach is used to look at any issues that may be caused by imbalances in the body.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapists used exercises to address patients’ conditions. Depending on an individual’s specific issue, a physical therapist may use any of the following techniques:

physical therapy

Physical Exercise

One of the main concerns of physical therapists is increasing their patient’s mobility. To achieve this, they teach individuals contraction and relaxation exercises that can help train their muscles.

Most of the exercises taught by physical therapists can be done at home. This means that patients can continue training their muscles and improving their mobility even when they’re not in therapy sessions.

Hot and Cold Therapies

For chronic and acute conditions that cause intense pain, physical therapists may use hot or cold therapies. These methods help reduce swelling and inflammation and numb the affected area.

A physical therapist may use cold packs, nitrogen, or cryogenics to provide cold therapy to patients. On the other hand, they often use diathermy, hot packs, and infrared heat to reduce joint pain and address chronic conditions.

Class IV Laser Therapy

This technique involves the use of specific wavelengths of light to stimulate the body’s healing mechanisms. This method also improves a patient’s circulation, increases blood flow, encourages muscle, tendon, and joint repair, and decreases inflammation.


Physical therapists sometimes use an ultrasound machine to reduce inflammation. The sound waves created by the machine cause vibrations in the muscle, which, in turn, increases blood flow, oxygen, and chemicals in the patient’s body. These components help heal the individual’s damaged tissues and bring them closer to recovery.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Also known as TENS, this method is used to reduce pain by sending electrical impulses through the skin and into the nerve endings. These electrical stimulations help block the pain signals from reaching the brain.

Blood Flow Restriction Training

This type of technique is often used for patients who want to strengthen their muscles after an injury or surgery. It involves the application of a tourniquet to an extremity to reduce blood flow and enhance muscle fibre activation.

Neuromuscular Reeducation

This approach is used to retrain the muscles and improve movement patterns. It helps patients suffering from conditions that have caused changes in their neuromuscular system, such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

Choose the Right Treatment for Your Condition

Going back to the question “Are physiotherapy and physical therapy the same,” you’ve learned through this article that these approaches to healing are quite different. They use different techniques to achieve the same goal, which is to make you live a normal and pain-free life.

Whether you need physiotherapy or physical therapy will depend on your specific condition. If you’re unsure which type of treatment is right for you, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional.

At OneEssential, we offer physical therapy and physiotherapy treatments in Hong Kong. Our certified therapist is committed to creating a personalised treatment plan to help you achieve your rehabilitation goals, no matter the issues you’re currently dealing with.

Book an appointment today and get started on your road to recovery!