South Africa: a profile of the profession

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The data has been provided by South African Society of Physiotherapy and to the extent possible are a true reflection of the situation in the country, however not all figures are authoritative and should be interpreted accordingly. For questions or feedback please contact

Reference year: 2018

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Summary report for South Africa
Professional name
English name:
Physiotherapist  (Protected by law)
National language names:
  • Physiotherapist  (Protected by law)
  • Physical Therapist  (Protected by law)
Number of physical therapist members:
Entry level student organisation:
Yes, represented by the WCPT member organisation
Practising physical therapists
Number of practising physical therapists:
7,708    (Estimated)
Not available
Support personnel part of workforce:
The South African Journal of Physiotherapy  (3 editions per year - March, July and November)
CPD Events:
Special interest groups recognised by South Africa
Recognised special interest groups:
  • Aquatics
  • Animal practice
  • Cardiorespiratory physical therapy
  • Neurology
  • Orthopaedics/manual therapy
  • Pain (includes pain management, pain research)
  • Paediatrics
  • Policy
  • Private practitioners
  • Sports physical therapy
  • Womens health
Collaborative arrangements (twinning)
Physical therapist professional entry level education
Number of programmes:
Starting education level (minimum):
Upper secondary
Finishing education level (minimum):
Bachelors degree
Equivalent fulltime years:
Other entry level programmes
Note: qualification levels are consistent with ISCED 1997 levels
Post professional degree programmes
Post professional degree programmes:
Graduate diploma,  Masters degree,  Research doctorate
Physical therapist specialisation recognised by South Africa
Recognised specialisation:
Scope of practice defined by:
One or more independent regulation/licensing/registration authorities
Standards of practice:
Yes, more than one
Code of conduct:
Yes, more than one
Education for autonomous practice:
Yes - Physiotherapists don't have first line practitioner status for patients admitted to hospital as these patients are managed by the treating doctor. Due to the referral system in public sector services, physiotherapists might not be recognised as first line practitioners in some government settings
Legislation to prevent private practice:
Physical Therapists are permitted to:
  • Act as first contact/autonomous practitioners
  • Assess patients/clients
  • Make a diagnosis
  • Treat (interventions, advice and evaluation of outcome)
  • Refer to other specialists/services
  • Offer preventative advice/services
Direct access* permitted:
Can people self refer to physical therapists in private practice:
Will this be reimbursed:
In part
Can people self refer to physical therapists in the public system:
Yes - Due to the referral system in public sector and admission criteria at rehabilitation centres it might be difficult to accept self-referrals.
* Direct access - a person can refer themselves to a physical therapist without referral from another health professional
Registration required to practice:
CPD* required for re-registration:
CPD* required for membership:
The system of regulation in the country:
The HPCSA is the compulsory regulatory body in SA. Initial registration as a physiotherapist after completing the undergraduate programme, a student must complete a year of compulsory community service in the public service. To remain registered with the HPCSA and be able to practice in SA, physiotherapists need to gain 30 CPD points per annum, of which 5 points must be for ethics, human rights and medical law. The CPD system is based on trust with 10-20% of each professional group being audited each year. Physiotherapy support staff only need 15 CPD point per annum.
* CPD - Continuing Professional Development

Other available reference years: 2017