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What is Physiotherapy?

“What is physiotherapy?” is a common question for someone who has been asked to visit a physiotherapist. While the term physical therapy is quite common, physiotherapy is often considered a relatively new term despite it being around for many years. It is used almost synonymously with physical therapy by medical professionals. Here is some information on this field, career outlook for physiotherapists and what it takes to become a physiotherapist.


Physiotherapy is a method of treatment used to help people restore, maintain and build their function, physical strength, range of motion and overall well-being by not just fixing the problem but determining the underlying cause. It utilizes a holistic approach to treatment, determines the patient’s lifestyle and encourages them to become involved in their treatment. Physiotherapists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals when determining a treatment plan based on the patient’s health.

Physiotherapist vs Physical Therapist – What’s the Difference?

Although physiotherapists and physical therapists may be different medical professionals, their titles are often used synonymously and their job duties are very similar. The use of one title or the other has more to do with the country than with the actual occupation. The main difference between the two is that physical therapy utilizes an exercise-based treatment while physiotherapy is more or a hands-on therapy where the patient also participates in the treatment. Physiotherapists use three types of treatment: neurological, musculoskeletal and cardiothoracic. Physiotherapists don’t just provide the patient with the treatment but also encourage the patient to participate and try to determine what may have caused the problem.

Physiotherapists have the same education requirements as physical therapists, which are required to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The training program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. As of 2017, there were more than 200 CAPTE-accredited programs in the U.S. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree can usually earn a doctoral degree in three years. An applicant without at least a bachelor’s degree will take about six or seven years to earn the degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A physiotherapist may earn a graduate degree in physiotherapy. Students in the program are required to complete not just coursework but also at least 30 hours of clinical work as well as a clinical residency, which typically takes about one year. The number of hours of clinical work required can vary by school and geographic location. After successfully completing the program, the candidate must obtain licensure before he or she can work as a physiotherapist or a physical therapist. This can be accomplished by passing the physical therapy certification exam, which is offered through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Depending on the state, the candidate may also be required to pass a background check and a law exam.

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Career Outlook

Physical therapists, which includes physiotherapists, are very much in demand today. In addition to the elderly population needing physical therapy, many other patients need this therapy to help recover from strokes, heart attacks and other mobility-related injuries caused by chronic illnesses. The BLS predicts that physical therapists should see employment growth of 28 percent during the decade of 2016-2026. As of May 2017, physical therapists earned annual wages ranging from $58,190 to $122,130 with the average wage at $87,220. The satisfaction of being able to help an individual overcome physical or psychological disabilities may be one of the largest benefits of working as a physiotherapist. Although it may be challenging at times, physiotherapy is a field that can offer a lucrative and rewarding career.