Physical Therapy Or Physiotherapy: All the Facts to Know

Physical Therapy Or Physiotherapy: All the Facts to Know

Written by

Angela Grace Varghese MPT (Paediatrics)

  • A physiotherapist (Physical therapist) is called a movement expert as they look into the biomechanics of movement and mobility.
  • They treat individuals of all age groups starting from newborns to the elderly. 
  • They make use of exercises, machine-equipped and hands-on therapy to reduce pain and movement disability thereby improving the quality of life.

What is Physical Therapy or Physiotherapy?

Physical Therapy or Physiotherapy or also known as physical rehabilitation is an independent profession that assesses, analyzes, diagnoses, and treats movement and mobility-related issues using various techniques and physical therapy exercises to bring the individual to his/her maximal function.

Founders of Physical Therapy or Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy has contributions dating back to 1000 BC. Different techniques that are now under physiotherapy practice were used as treatment methods in different places around the world. Countries like China, Greece, and India had included exercises and massages in their medical treatment to treat certain conditions like arthritis and bony malalignment.

However, the first practitioners of Physical therapy treatment were believed to be in 460 BC by Hippocrates and later by Galeon. The first documentation of physiotherapy treatment was done in 1813 by Per Henrik Ling, the father of Swedish gymnastics, who established the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics, to provide massages, manipulations, and exercises. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare was the first to officially accept physiotherapy registration in 1887.

Among these massive contributions was also the formation of the Physical Therapy Association (now known as – “American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)) in 1921 by a nurse named Mary Mcmillan who owns the portfolio – “Mother of Physiotherapy”.

APTA started offering specializations in 1974, and the first specialization was in othopaedics. Manual therapy also gained a foothold in the physiotherapy world with the formation of the International Federation of Orthopaedic Manipulative Therapy. Initially, physical therapists were practicing only in hospital settings, and they gradually broadened their work to outpatient settings, clinics, public schools, geriatric settings, and colleges as we see today.

Who Is a Physical Therapist?

A physical therapist is a licensed health professional who has completed 4.6 years of bachelor’s degree (BPT) course in Physiotherapy. To procure specialization, an additional 2-yrs master’s degree (MPT) will be needed, for which an eligibility exam is a mandate for most universities.

All physiotherapists must be registered members of either the respective state physiotherapy council or in IAP(Indian Association of Physiotherapists)

What Does a PT Do?

Functions of a physiotherapist will often include:

  • Assessing, diagnosing, and treating the client.
  • Setting patient-oriented goals.
  • Setting treatment protocol.
  • Documentation of the client details.
  • Reassessing and updating the treatment plan regularly.
  • Assessing and prescribing assistive devices like prostheses, orthosis, and braces.
  • Designing home programs and precautions that clients need to be aware of.
  • Educating the client and the family about the disease or condition and the management plan.
  • Referring to other health professionals for specific purposes.

Where Do You Get Physiotherapy (PT)

A Physiotherapist works in a variety of settings. One can find a PT in a

  • Hospital
  • A multidisciplinary centre,
  • In special schools
  • Geriatric homes
  • Fitness centres
  • Patient homes
  • Military institutions
  • Veterinary clinics

Physical Therapist Study Areas

To become qualified as a physical therapist, the course syllabus covers a vast degree of medical knowledge that includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Organic chemistry
  • First aid training
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Exercise therapy
  • Electrotherapy
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Orthopaedics and Physiotherapy
  • General medicine and surgery and its Physiotherapy
  • Paediatrics  and Physiotherapy
  • Gynecology and Physiotherapy
  • Geriatrics  and Physiotherapy
  • Community-based rehabilitation  and Physiotherapy
  • Neurology  and Physiotherapy
  • Cardio-respiratory and Physiotherapy
  • Oncology  and Physiotherapy
  • Biostatistics
  • Research
  • Medical ethics
  • Community Health

What to expect from Physiotherapy

In any given setting, a physiotherapist (physio or PT) is required to assess, evaluate, diagnose and treat their clients.


It mainly includes detailed information on the demographics, medical, family, personal and environmental history. This is followed by a detailed examination and evaluation of the client based on their concerns. While examining the client, the therapist will perform a series of tests and measures that will be either hands-on or with the aid of specialized equipment. Most physios will use standardized scales to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

Goal setting and Therapy

Once the diagnosis is complete and the problem list is made, the goals will be set for the client-based SMART approach. Based on the goals, a treatment protocol will be developed which will be administered to the client. Based on the response of the client to the treatment, the protocol may be modified. A physio will reassess the client regularly so that maximal recovery can be achieved.  The complete process is documented and recorded so that both physio and the client can keep track of the progress.

Final Evaluation, Discharge, and Review

Once all the goals taken by the therapist are achieved, the client may be discharged from therapy after a final evaluation. But this may not be the case in chronic conditions like osteoarthritis, stroke, or cerebral palsy where the client will have to visit the therapist for regular review even after discharge.

Common conditions in physical therapy

Common conditions that a physiotherapist treats include:

Orthopaedic conditions: Cervical spondylosis, frozen shoulder, tennis and golfers elbow, nerve compressions, fractures, low back pain, hip, knee, and ankle issues, ligament and muscle tears, bursitis, dislocations, amputations, and various post-operative cases.

Neurological conditions: Different types of strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, demyelinating diseases, peripheral nerve injuries, parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, neuromuscular junction disorders, and various postoperative conditions.

Cardiopulmonary: We treat different conditions like obstructive lung disorders, restrictive lung disorders, post-surgical lung complications, cardiac rehabilitation for myocardial infarction, and many more

Paediatric conditions: Conditions that require physiotherapy include: Cerebral palsy, gross motor developmental delay, genetic conditions such as muscular dystrophy, down syndrome, Joubert syndrome, congenital conditions like obstetric brachial plexus injury, congenital stroke, various foot disorders, postural conditions like scoliosis, post fractures, and various post-surgical conditions.

Gynaecology: Prenatal complications like nerve compressions, stress, prenatal fitness,  postnatal conditions like diastasis recti, back pain, C-section complications, PCOD (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), incontinence, pelvic/vaginal pain, postpartum depression, menstrual problems, sexually transmitted infections, etc.

Core Benefits of physiotherapy:

Depending on the kind of condition that is being treated, the physical therapy benefits will also be different. One of the core benefits that physiotherapy offers is to bring the individual back to his or her normal life.

Some of the other benefits include:

  • To relieve pain
  • Reduction in stiffness and spasticity
  • Improve movement to perform daily tasks
  • To reduce the severity of disability
  • To improve balance and coordination
  • To achieve the optimal walking ability
  • To improve strength and endurance
  • To maintain fitness


Due to the advance in science and scientific research, the interventions in the field of physiotherapy have increased. Physiotherapists practice physiotherapy in various ways, but mainly physiotherapy treatment takes 2 different forms:


Electrotherapy is the use of electric-based modalities, to treat various conditions. The treatment will be aimed to reduce pain and spasms, and improve muscle contraction. The treatment is provided by introducing micro-ampere current to the affected area at a specific intensity and frequency for a set period. Electrotherapy is often used as a combination therapy along with other physiotherapy interventions.

Some of the commonly used electro modalities include TENS (Transcutaneous electro), IFT, ultrasound, Laser, and infrared radiation.

Exercise therapy:

Exercise therapy focuses on hands-on therapy and is the main type of therapy that is practiced. Different variants of exercise therapy are manual therapy, mobilization, stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, myofascial release, trigger point release, aerobics, pilates, yoga, massages, heat therapy, cold therapy, and passive and active movements. Techniques in exercise therapy are aimed at relieving pain, increasing joint mobility, correcting posture, and increasing strength and endurance.

These two are the major forms of therapy. All interventions used in physiotherapy will fall into either one of the categories. Some special forms of rehabilitation therapy that need to be highlighted in physiotherapy include,

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Vestibular therapy
  • Gait training
  • Neuro-developmental therapy
  • Pelvic floor rehabilitation
  • Cardiovascular rehabilitation
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Geriatric rehabilitation
  • Pain management

Specialization areas

Once the bachelor’s degree program is complete, a physio can enroll in a master’s degree for specialization. A physiotherapist has a vast number of specialization fields to choose from including,

  • Orthopaedics and sports
  • Neurology and Psychomotor disorders
  • Peadiatrics
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Geriatrics
  • Obstetric and Gyneacology
  • Community Health
  • Veterinary
  • Space physiotherapy

What is pediatric physical therapy?

Paediatric physiotherapy is a branch of physiotherapy that specializes in assessing, diagnosing, and managing children with disabilities. It also focuses on pediatric sports and fitness. Just like general physiotherapy, we observe and assess the quality and pattern of movements, balance, coordination, and gait the child has and work on the factors that limit the normal functioning of the child in these areas.


To summarise, a physiotherapist is an irreplaceable member of a rehabilitation team who has the knowledge to assess, diagnose and treat various conditions and disorders.

Hope this blog has given you insightful information on Physiotherapy. Our team would love to hear from you, and do leave a comment to let us know your feedback. Should you have any queries related to physiotherapy, do not hesitate to drop in a message in the comment box below. We would be more than happy to clarify all your doubts related to the topic. 

References: Physiotherapy – All Facts to know

Tips for Parents: Supporting Your Child’s Physiotherapy at Home

Exploring different techniques used in child physiotherapy

Motor Skills Milestones in Children


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