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Home > Blog > Physiotherapy vs. Physical Therapy: What’s the Difference?

If you are injured, have been through a surgery or illness, and cannot move or function normally due to pain, loss of range of motion, or reduced strength, physical therapy or physiotherapy may help you feel and move better. Physical therapy and physiotherapy deliver the same results with different approaches or techniques and give you a chance to maintain long-term health and wellbeing. Understanding the difference between physical therapy and physiotherapist ensures you make the right choice and do the right exercises at appropriate frequency and intensity to regain range of motion, strength, mobility, and flexibility to prevent pain and future limitations. The top-rated therapists at the Physical Therapist NYC develop comprehensive recovery programs specific to what your body needs and help you heal and function at the level you want most successfully.

The terms ‘physiotherapy’ and ‘physical therapy’ are often used in close proximity to each other. Most people even take them to be one and same thing with similar end results. While it is true that the two fields are similar, the core differences between them can make a big impact for the person undergoing them.

Healthcare providers believe that a physiotherapy is a hands-on approach to rehabilitation therapy where physiotherapists use manual techniques to support patients in their rehabilitation. It could include help with deepening stretches and other approaches. It has also been asserted that physical therapy is, to a large extent, exercise-based therapy.

Even though physiotherapy and physical therapy overlap in many aspects, there are several differences. The skills, techniques, and approaches used in physiotherapy and physical therapy will help you understand what they do and how they can benefit you. Equipped with information about what they are all about can make you choose the best option for your long-term health and wellbeing.

Physical Therapy

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a form of medical care that aims to ease pain, enables an individual to function or move easily and live a better quality of life.

Physical therapy is usually used for:

  • Relieving pain
  • Improving movement or ability
  • Recover from or prevent a sports injury, surgery or accident
  • Rehab after a stroke
  • Manage any painful conditions or chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease
  • Improve balance or enhance better body functions
  • Recovery after giving birth

Physical therapy is performed by qualified therapists. A physical therapist is a fully trained and licensed medical professional who can diagnose physical abnormalities and help to restore body functions, maintain mobility, and promote physical activity, encouraging normal routines.

In case of a serious illness or injury, the physical therapists do not work in place of the doctor. They work with the doctors and other healthcare professionals to guide treatment and assist patients to feel better and get them back to full function in the area being treated.

What Is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy has been defined as a treatment approach that helps treat diseases, injuries, or deformities using physical methods such as massage, joint manipulation, and other techniques. Physiotherapy is meant to be used in place of drugs or surgery when possible.

Physiotherapy works best for people who have been through an injury, illness, or disability through movement and exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice. The good thing about physiotherapy is that it takes a holistic approach to wellbeing and treatment. It means that it focuses on an individual’s general lifestyle and health and aims to improve it.

Many people may believe that physiotherapists mainly work with back and sports injuries, but that is not always the case. Physiotherapists are highly trained health professionals who provide treatment to people suffering from physical problems caused by injury, illness, illness, and aging. With their treatments and therapies, physiotherapists offer people a chance to stay independent and enjoy an active life for as long as possible.

Difference Between Physiotherapy and Physical Therapy

Both these approaches use movement and hands-on techniques to improve body condition, but they differ in the ways they do it. While physiotherapy is focused on manual therapies, physical treatment is more exercise-based. The goal of both these approaches is the same, but they use different forms of treatment to reach their goals. The main differences between them can be determined through their focus on treatment.

Physiotherapy is primarily used in different settings as compared to physical therapy. It often focuses mainly on hospital work such as post-operative care and other urgent situations. On the other hand, physical therapy concentrates mostly on the treatment of non-threatening injuries. The expert therapists usually specialize in evaluating and treating musculoskeletal problems such as muscle aches, pains, strains, injuries, and chronic movement issues, such as arthritis.

Commonly Used Physical Therapy Techniques

Physical exercise is the primary technique used by physical therapy to benefit the patients. Depending on the patients’ needs, the therapist will develop an exercise plan that helps the affected body parts contract, relax and increase mobility. The ultimate goal of these exercises is to resume common movements that are painful or impossible for the patient to perform. Once they get used to the exercises, patients can also do them on their own at home for long-term mobility and wellness.

Sometimes physical therapists use other methods or equipment in their treatment to benefit the patients. They include:

  • Hot and cold therapies – It includes the use of ice and cold packs or infrared heat to treat chronic conditions and alleviate pain
  • Ultrasound – It uses deep heat to reduce inflammation in affected or injured areas
  • TENS units – It helps to treat acute and chronic pain. Electrodes are placed on the skin near the affected area and signals are sent through nerve fibers to block or reduce the pain signals
  • Neuromuscular reeducation – It aims at voluntary muscle control in cases of atrophy, injury, or pathology.

Commonly Used Physiotherapy Techniques

Physiotherapy makes use of manual therapy to help people suffering from various problems. Most of the techniques are hands-on and specifically designed to manipulate, mobilize and massage the tissues in the body. These techniques relieve pain and stiffness, improve blood circulation, movement, and promote relaxation.

The most commonly used techniques in physiotherapy include:

  • Massage – It is used for stimulating the soft tissues in the body to relieve pain, improve circulation and relax the muscles.
  • Soft tissue techniques – They include stretching, a myofascial release that works like massage and promotes wellness.
  • Joint mobilization and joint manipulation – These therapies work best when the gliding of the joint is used to improve motion and joint function as well as to control pain.
  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilization (PIM) – This is a manual therapy technique that is performed with the help of handcrafted instruments.
  • Minimal Energy Techniques (METs) – It is a form of manual therapy that utilizes muscle’s own energy to relax the muscles through autogenic or reciprocal inhibition and lengthen the muscle

Other techniques used by physiotherapists include:

  • Osteopathy
  • Acupuncture
  • Kinesiology

Who Should You See – a Physical Therapist or a Physiotherapist?

The answer to this question depends on the type of problem that you are facing and the mode of treatment determined by the doctor. Every visit to a physiotherapist or a physical therapist is unique as it is based on the specific needs of each patient. The doctor will assess your condition and symptoms and recommend the best approach that helps to reach your health and fitness goals.

Physiotherapists work in hospitals, clinics, or rehabilitation and post-surgery facilities. Your doctor may recommend you to a physiotherapist, a professional who could help you with recovery. A physiotherapist will work with you for a short period till you get on the road to recovery and feel better.

On the other hand, physical therapists work in private clinics, gyms, or rehabilitation facilities, and you can see them for longer periods depending on the type of support you require. If you want to get the best treatment for recurring pain or treat injuries and diseases, starting with physical therapy and moving to physiotherapy may be a good option. Due to the thin line between the practices, some physical therapists offer hands-on techniques usually associated with physiotherapy to help you seek relief.

With slight differences, both treatment methods are incredibly effective and safe for people experiencing acute or chronic pain. The highly trained and skilled therapists employ the best treatment approaches, including exercise-based and manual, as well as others to address your problems with a personalized approach for desired health outcomes. The award-winning therapists at the Physical Therapists NYC focus on easing your pain, preventing injury, and improving flexibility and your quality of life with solutions that provide long-term relief.


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