Physiotherapy or Physical Therapy

4 mins read

The basis of physiotherapy lies in massage. For remedial purposes massage as well as a vast array of other mechanical methods are employed, such as reflex therapy and manipulation. Remedial touching of patients in physiotherapy is what sets it aside from other professions.1

What is physiotherapy? Where did it originate?
In 1894, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) was founded in the United Kingdom with the name “the Society of Trained Masseuses.” It was established to regulate the practice of “medical rubbers.” For many years, doctors controlled the profession of physiotherapy and one of the first rules to be followed was: no massage to be done except under medical supervision.1

During the early 20th century, the Society added exercise and movement, electrophysical techniques and other physical approaches to its methods. In 1920, this practice was made legitimate by a Royal Charter.1

In 1948, physiotherapy training began to be conducted at hospital-based schools. Newly qualified physiotherapists practiced at National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and NHS soon became their primary employer.1

In the 1970s, a health circular titled “Relationship between the Medical and Remedial Professions” was issued. This document recognized the ability of the physiotherapist to determine the course of treatment on his own.1

According to the World Congress for Physical Therapy (WCPT, 2011), “Physical therapy provides services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing services in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by aging, injury, diseases, disorders, conditions, or environmental factors. Functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy…”1

How is physiotherapy beneficial?
Physiotherapy attempts to relieve physical issues related to the following conditions:

  • Musculoskeletal – this involves the bones, joints and soft tissue
  • Neuromuscular – this involves the nervous system and the brain
  • Cardiovascular – this involves the heart and blood circulation
  • Respiratory – this involves the lungs, windpipe and voice box

Studies/research on the efficacy of physiotherapy

  • Beckerman et. al (1993) concluded that the efficacy of physiotherapy is convincing only for a few indications and treatments.
  • Bennell et. al (2005) concluded that physiotherapy management of knee joint osteoarthritis was not more effective than regular contact with a therapist at reducing pain and disability.4
  • Hayes et. al (2004) concluded that the effect of individualized physiotherapy treatment after rotator cuff repair was no better than that on patients who underwent a standardized home exercise regime.5

How is physiotherapy performed?
As defined by the Royal Charter in the United Kingdom, physiotherapy includes:

  • Massage
  • Exercise and movement
  • Electrotherapy
  • Kindred methods of treatment1

Physiotherapists view movement on a continuum from a micro-level (molecular and cellular) to a macro-level (person in the environment or society.) It brings together the knowledge of pathology with a complete view of movement that includes psychological, social and physical factors to evaluate a person’s maximum achievable movement potential.1

How can people get started with physiotherapy?
Usually, physiotherapy services consist of the following therapeutic procedures:

  • Use of heat or cold
  • Use of magnetic waves
  • Use of electricity
  • Use of ultrasound and low power laser2

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the current areas of specialization are:

  • Orthopedic medicine
  • Sports medicine
  • Neurology
  • Cardiopulmonary medicine
  • Electrophysiology
  • Pediatric medicine
  • Geriatric medicine
  • Women’s health3

Any precautions, contraindications, interactions
Patients who have undergone physiotherapy have reported some side effects such as pain, swelling, lack of outcome and psycho-emotional issues.


  1. Porter S.Tidy’s Physiotherapy. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2013. 576 p.
  2. Gharibi F, Tabrizi J, Eteraf Oskouei M, AsghariJafarabadi M.Effective interventions on service quality improvement in a physiotherapy clinic. Health Promot Perspect. 2014 Jul 12;4(1):61-7. doi: 10.5681/hpp.2014.008. eCollection 2014. PubMed PMID: 25097838; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4122040.
  3. Harasymiw T.A Career as a Physical Therapist. The Rosen Publishing Group; 2010. 80p.
  4. Bennell KL, Hinman RS, Metcalf BR, Buchbinder R, McConnell J, McColl G, Green S, Crossley KM.Efficacy of physiotherapy management of knee joint osteoarthritis: a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 2005 Jun;64(6):906-12. PubMed PMID: 15897310; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1755542.
  5. Hayes K, Ginn KA, Walton JR, Szomor ZL, Murrell GA.A randomised clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of physiotherapy after rotator cuff repair.Aust J Physiother. 2004;50(2):77-83. PubMed PMID: 15151491.
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