Physical Therapy VS Physiotherapy

Although sometimes used interchangeably the titles 'Physiotherapist' and 'physical therapist' are actually quite distinct from each other. Inspired by a recent question from one of our clients I will share some details that should help to explain what the difference is between a Chartered Physiotherapist and a physical therapist.

Definition - Physiotherapist

Physiotherapy is a health profession concerned with helping to restore well-being to people following injury, pain or disability. Using knowledge from our extensive scientific and clinical background Chartered Physiotherapists can help to assess, diagnose and treat conditions and illnesses that affect people of all ages and social groups.

Chartered Physiotherapists use manual therapy including manipulation, mobilisation and massage as well as complementary modalities including electrotherapy and Medical Acupuncture & Dry Needling. The Chartered Physiotherapist also utilises prescriptive exercise as a rehabilitative tool to help patients achieve their full potential. While traditionally, Physiotherapy was regarded as rehabilitative and mainly hospital-based, the profession has expanded greatly into other health care areas. We have invaluable expertise to offer in educational and preventative roles in the community, the workplace and in private practice.

Definition - Physical Therapist

The Institute of Physical Therapy and Applied Science Limited defines Physical Therapy as a holistic approach based on the manual treatment of soft tissue, i.e., muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia.

In this respect a physical therapist differs largely from a Chartered Physiotherapist in that they do not specifically treat the spine.

Training & Qualification

A Chartered Physiotherapist will complete a four year full time degree. This will include 1000 hours of clinical placement in a hospital, primary care or community setting prior to qualification.

A physical therapist completes a three year part time degree which will consist of twenty weekends a year over three years. A Physical Therapist student carries out clinical practice in the private setting only and will complete significantly less clinical hours prior to qualifying.

Professional recognition

Chartered Physiotherapists are recognised by the medical professions and the Department of Health. In 2005 the Health and Social Care Bill outlined a professional council and regulatory board for twelve specific healthcare professionals including Physiotherapists, dieticians and occupational therapists among others.

The title Physical Therapist did not meet the criteria to be a part of this health and social care professional board.

What it means to be ‘Chartered’

The title "Physiotherapist" alone is not evidence of a formal qualification in Physiotherapy. The title "Chartered Physiotherapist" and the initials MISCP indicate that a physiotherapist is a member of the professional regulating body, the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists.

When you attend a Chartered Physiotherapist, you can be sure of:

  • A professional, scientific approach to the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of your complaint
  • Seeing a therapist who has qualified with a university degree and who is committed to continuing education and research.
  • Your therapist is governed by a professional regulating body

The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists have a list of all registered chartered physiotherapists in the country. By clicking on the link below you can search your physiotherapist name to ensure that he/she is a member of the Irish regulatory body of Chartered Physiotherapists. ISCP -

Making an informed decision

The terminology of Physical Therapist and Physiotherapist can sometimes be used interchangeably. However, as the patient, it is vitally important to be able to differentiate between these titles so that you can be fully aware of the therapist’s qualifications when seeking treatment for your musculoskeletal problem.

Author Info:
- BSc (Hons) MSc Physiotherapy MISCP

Paula holds a Masters Degree in Physiotherapy and a BSc in Biomedical Science. Paula incorporates the use of medical acupuncture with her manual therapy skills and is also an APPI Pilates Instructor leading regular Physio Pilates classes in our Mount Merrion Pilates Studio.

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