Physiotherapy vs Physical Therapy

The history of mankind is marked by divides in the population that jostle and grind together like tectonic plates. They can coexist quietly for centuries, or collide violently creating shockwaves that are felt the world over.

Communist versus capitalists, Protestants versus Catholics, country music fans versus people with taste… these divides may never be resolved but the better we understand them, the better we can navigate the world we live in.

Physiotherapy vs physical therapy

If you’ve read this far expecting the difference between physiotherapists and physical therapists to be this sort volcanic intersection… then I’m afraid you may be disappointed – we’re basically the same thing.

The biggest difference is geographical, in Australia, New Zealand, The UK and Canada you’ll find physiotherapists, in the USA you see physical therapists. But there are some other nuanced differences that are worth being aware of.

Physiotherapists are what’s known as “primary practitioners”, that’s medical lingo meaning you can just walk in the door and be seen by a physio, but a in some states of the USA you need to be referred to a physical therapist by a doctor.

Also, physiotherapists tend to be a bit more hands-on, using techniques like massage, mobilisation and acupuncture. Physical therapists are known for relying exercise prescription. You could speculate that this stems from the famously litigious nature of the American medical environment, perhaps you’re less likely to get sued prescribing exercises?

It’s probably worth noting one idiosyncrasy of the New Zealand physiotherapy system: the Accident Compensation Corporation (generally just known as “ACC”). This system means, generally, if you’re injured through an accident in NZ – even as a non-resident – your healthcare costs are largely covered.

The upshot is, if you’re visiting NZ from the U S of A, then you can receive the same care you’d expect from a physical therapist… but it’ll just say “physiotherapist” on our card.