7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Physiotherapists

  •   May 3, 2018
  •  Nancy Littke, PT, Practice Advisor

You probably already know that physiotherapists treat injuries and conditions related to muscles and joints. But I’d be willing to bet there are a few things that would surprise you about physiotherapy and physiotherapists. For starters, did you know that May is National Physiotherapy Month? Did you know there are over 22,000 physiotherapists practicing in Canada?1

1. Physiotherapy has been practiced in Alberta since the early 1900s

Physiotherapy practice first became established in Canada during WW1. The physiotherapists were mainly women, often known as reconstruction aides, remedial gymnasts or masseuses. They treated injured soldiers with range of motion exercises, hydrotherapy, massage and therapeutic exercise to help return the soldiers to active duty or to assist in their recovery post injury. During WWII, the terms physiotherapy and physiotherapist were adopted in Canada. Recognition of the value of physiotherapy grew in the 1920s/1930s during the polio epidemic and in 1935 the Canadian Physiotherapy Association was incorporated to develop standardized training and facilitate further growth of the profession.2

Physiotherapy became a self-regulated profession in Alberta in 1985 with the formation of the College of Physical Therapists of Alberta, which became Physiotherapy Alberta – College + Association in 2010 when the College took on both regulatory and association responsibilities. Self-regulation means that physiotherapists elect a Council made up of physiotherapists who lead and establish direction for the profession.

2. Physiotherapists treat much more than just your muscles and joints

There are a number of other conditions and injuries that physiotherapists help treat, including the following:

3. You don’t need a doctor’s referral to see a physiotherapist

Physiotherapists in Alberta are primary health-care providers. This means you do not need to see a doctor or specialist for a referral to see a physiotherapist. Physiotherapists can be your first point of contact when you are seeking help following an injury or motor vehicle accident, have been given a diagnosis of a chronic condition, or for any other condition that affects your ability to move about freely and do the tasks you need to do in everyday life. Physiotherapists are highly-qualified professionals with years of training in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of physical function, movement and mobility for individuals of all ages and for many different conditions, injuries or diseases.

4. The terms physiotherapists, physical therapists and PT are the same

In Alberta, the titles physiotherapist, physical therapist, and PT are used interchangeably and are protected titles used to clearly identify individuals who are registered to provide physiotherapy services in Alberta. Physiotherapists are widely recognized for their skills and expertise by fellow health professionals, government organizations and insurers.

Also, it’s good to note that there is a difference between physiotherapists and athletic therapists, kinesiologists, exercise specialists, or athletic trainers. Many professions work with people and use exercise to help improve movement and activity. Sometimes, these professions will even work together to help achieve patient goals. However, as regulated primary care providers, physiotherapists are uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive treatment to people with a wide range of health conditions and concerns. Physiotherapists use specialized hands-on treatment to restore, maintain and maximize optimal function and quality of life.3

5. Physiotherapists work in all sorts of different settings – not just in clinics

There are more than 2,800 physiotherapists registered in Alberta and they can be found in many different settings. Alberta’s physiotherapists provide care in a variety of hospital settings including outpatient departments, emergency departments, the ICU and Cardiac Care units, most post surgical units, general medicine units, geriatric care centers and pediatric care units. These hospitals can be found in large urban settings and in the smallest rural hospitals or health clinics all over the province.

Physiotherapists also work in schools, home care, universities and colleges, large sport organizations, for large corporations and for public organizations like the Workers’ Compensation Board. Some physiotherapists work in developing nations providing care following natural disasters and crises as part of large global health organizations. Your Olympic athletes and teams travelling to many major competitions, as well as many other sports teams in Alberta have physiotherapists travelling with them, or available at competitions. In other words, you can find a physiotherapist almost anywhere.

6. Physiotherapists are involved in leading-edge research

Physiotherapy is an evidence-informed profession. This means that knowledge and decisions are based on research. Many physiotherapists are involved in research that includes informing practice and clinical decision making. Physiotherapists at provincial, national and international levels conduct, review and implement research in all aspects of health-care services, health education and health policy. Many physiotherapists from across the province are recognized as experts in their specific area of practice by colleagues in Canada and around the world.

7. Physiotherapists will give you homework

Physiotherapy is not a passive activity done to you, but an active program you participate in. Your physiotherapist will work with you to identify the problems that matter to you, and develop strategies and plans to address those problems, all with the goal of improving your function at work or play. The key to success with physiotherapy is active participation by you, the patient. It is important to follow exercise programs your physiotherapist designs to improve strength, balance and abilities, to listen to and follow advice to decrease the risk of further or future injury or loss of function, and to communicate your goals, questions and concerns to the physiotherapist to help you achieve your goals.

Click here to find a physiotherapist by condition and/or location.


  1. https://www.cihi.ca/en/physiotherapists
  2. Evans S. (2015) Coming in the Front Door. A History of three Canadian Physiotherapists through two World Wars. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1618&context=cmh
  3. Physiotherapy Alberta College + Association. About Physiotherapy. Available at: https://www.physiotherapyalberta.ca/public_and_patients/about_physiotherapy#what_do_physiotherapists_do
  4. Canadian Athletic Therapists Association. What is Athletic Therapy? Available at: https://athletictherapy.org/en/about-athletic-therapy/what-is-athletic-therapy/
  5. Alberta Kinesiology Association: What is Kinesiology? Available at: https://www.albertakinesiology.ca/cpages/what-is-kinesiology