The Growing Scope and Role of Physiotherapy in Canadian Health Care

By: Meagan St. Amour

In many countries around the world, a number of factors over the past decade have stimulated changes in the practices and delivery of healthcare [1]. One outcome of this is physiotherapists assuming larger and more diverse roles and responsibilities in the provision of healthcare [1]. This same trend is seen in Canada with more and more physiotherapists becoming specialized in a certain field [1].

Physiotherapy concentrates on enhancing patients’ lives by strengthening their physical functioning and overall wellness [2]. Physiotherapy is concerned with identifying and maximizing movement potential, within the scopes of health promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation [3]. The job of physiotherapists is to evaluate their patients, find the most appropriate treatment therapy, conduct the therapy and evaluate the progress of the patients [3].

The process that a physiotherapist performs to improve the condition of a patient starts with an evaluation. During the patient evaluation, the physiotherapist must take the medical and personal history of the patient, evaluate their strength and range of motion, evaluate the patient’s pain and functions, and evaluate other factors, such as posture, skin condition, respiratory system, heart-beat, brain and nervous system function and senses [2]. The physiotherapist then decides on the best treatment for the patient, which most commonly involves therapeutic exercise [2]. Additionally, they can use manual and massage therapies to manage their patient’s pain, increase their range of motion, reduce their inflammation, or induce relaxation [2]. As well as use other therapies such as pulmonary therapy, hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, heat therapy, and electrotherapy [2].  Furthermore, physiotherapists can help patients choose appropriate assistive devices and teach them the proper use [2]. For example, they may need to teach a patient with a prostheses how to walk again using their new device correctly.

The 8 specializations in the field of physiotherapy are orthopaedics, neurology, geriatrics, cardiopulmonary, paediatrics, sports, women’s health, and clinical electrophysiology [2]. Because of the perceived need for specialization within the profession, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association accepted the concept of specialization for physiotherapists, during its Annual General Meeting in June 1985 [4]. Since then, over the last two decades, Canadian Physiotherapist roles have shifted from primarily hospital-based, generalist health care professionals to practitioners in both public and private sectors [5]. This has helped fulfill the need of specialization by broadening the populations and settings physiotherapists can work in. Additionally, physiotherapy education has evolved from a diploma to a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree and also requires successfully passing the National Physical Therapy Exam to be certified [5]. This is great for health care, as physiotherapists are more educated to help treat specific conditions and can now serve a wider range of patients in improving their quality of life.

Physiotherapists apply treatment therapies to increase patients functionality with their injury, condition, or disability to help reach their goals and improve quality of life. The specializations and advancements of physiotherapy allow physiotherapists to accomplish this even more and further aid patients in their unique rehabilitation process.


[1]. Jull, G., Moore, A. (2008). Specialization in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy – The Australian Model. Elsevier, 13(3), 181-182. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2008.03.005.

[2]. Labbe, M. (2014). Physical Therapy: A Profession with a Promising Future. Essai, 12(1), 88-93. Retrieved from

[3]. Vabihav, A., Meena Raj, K., Maroof, K.A., Rahul, B. (2009). Hospital based study to assess knowledge, awareness and perception regarding physiotherapy among the patients in the physiotherapy OPD. Indian Journal of Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, 3(1), 62-65. Retrieved from http:www.indianjournals.comijor.aspxtarget=ijor:ijpot&volume=3&issue=1&article=013

[4]. Magee, D. (1986). Physiotherapy Specialization in Canada: An Update. NCBI, 38(2), 102-5. Retrieved from

[5]. Yardley, D., Gordon, R., Freeburn, R., So, C., Beauchamp, D., Landry, M.D., Switzer-McIntyre, S., Evans. C., Brooks, D. (2008). Clinical Specialists and Advanced Practitioners in Physical Therapy: A Survey of Physical Therapists and Employers of Physical Therapists in Ontario, Canada. NCBI, 60(3), 224-238. doi: 10.3138/physio.60.3.224.

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