Physical Therapy is not Physiotherapy in China

Have you ever had questions about Chinese physical therapy? Acupuncture

Is it safe? What do they do? And how is it different from western physiotherapy?

The use of the term “physical therapy” may be misleading. Chinese physical therapy is actually a part of Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM), and they are better known as “bone setters” in Hong Kong. The modalities the therapists use are limited to manual techniques, massage, herbal medicine and acupuncture to treat a certain physical dysfunctions. Since some of therapists are TCM doctors, they may also prescribe you with some herbal medication for internal regulation of the contrary forces “Yin-Yang” and “Qi.” The treatments are mainly passive and there is little part you can be involved in the treatment process. Whether it is safe or not, it depends on which therapist you are going to and how much the therapist knows about the disease and your problem.

Western physiotherapists or physical therapists (PT), on the other hand,  are primary health care professionals who specialize in exercise and movement science. Through physical examination, treatment and evaluation, physiotherapists treat a variety of diseases associated with the neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Example injuries that would use physical therapy are: nerve injury, stroke, neck and back pain, sciatica, sprained joint, post surgical rehabilitation, bronchial hygiene, cardiopulmonary fitness and etc.

Physiotherapy is a common alternative or an adjunct to internal medicine for pain management in many cases. By understanding the human physiology, usage of physical modalities, regulating joint and muscle function, physiotherapists aim at restoration of full body function and, more importantly, to improve the quality of life. Physical means include exercise, manipulation, ultrasound, thermal therapy, laser, electricity and also evident based acupuncture to promote healing and overall well-being of the human body. In comparison, western physiotherapy requires patients to understand the underlying problem and active participation of the rehabilitation process.


Raymond Tang

Registered Physiotherapist Hong Kong

Shekou Physio

Shop 101B, Coastal Rose Garden, Phase 1, Shekou, China.

Tel: (86) 0755 2668 8484

2 Comments for “Physical Therapy is not Physiotherapy in China”

  1. Yes you are right, and good luck to you. I am also a western (Australian) physiotherapist here working in China. I work for China’s Olympic Team, so i do get it a little easier (in terms of better understanding due to foreign coaches and most athletes having travelled overseas). In sports physiotherapy athletes have a much better understanding of doing proper rehabilitation and not a bunch of scientifically unproven method (however not to take all credit from them, some things like acucpuncture are showing some support in research). But i could imagine in public general physiotherapy there is very little in terms of proper rehabilitation going on. But this may be changing as physiotherapy schools have subsequently opened up in recent years.
    Regards Shane

  2. Hi Raymond,
    I am an Australian Physiotherapist doing volunteer work in Xi’an, China; I am working in a Cerebral Palsy clinic (run by English Language Association) with a focus on training the rehab staff here.

    Next month, I have an opportunity to present to Chinese 1st year rehabilitation students at a private university here in Xi’an. I will be telling them about Physiotherapy and also a little about Occupational Therapy and Speech Pathology. My goal is to increase their understanding of Western therapy approaches.

    I would also like to give them some options for further study. Do you know if there are any legitimate physiotherapy schools in mainland China? In Hong Kong I know of HK Polytechnic University, are there any others?

    Thanks for your great article.

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