When I was living in France last year, I twisted my ankle and put off seeing the physical therapist for months. I was worried that it would cost too much, and it seemed pretty complicated to get a referral.
In the end, my ankle injury only intensified, so I relented and finally went to the doctor for a referral. I ultimately had 5 sessions of physical therapy in France, and it wasn’t nearly as expensive as I thought (way cheaper than in the US!).
So, here’s a guide with all you’ll need to know before seeing a physical therapist (PT) in France, plus what my experience was like.
French Healthcare Vocab You Should Know
Even if you speak French, you may not know some of the more specialized healthcare vocabulary. Here are a few vocab words that might be helpful:
Physical therapist (PT)—un kinésithérapeute (un kiné for short)
Appointment—un rendez-vous (RDV)
Session—une séance (this might sound kind of “spooky” to anglophones, as we associate “séances” with mediums and speaking to the dead LOL)
Prescription—une ordonnance (you’ll also use this for a “referral” to see the PT; in French, it’s a “prescription” to see the PT).
Crutches—les béquilles (f.)
Bone scan—un scanner
Getting Physical Therapy in France: Before You Go
As I mentioned, you’ll need a referral from a doctor to get physical therapy in France. Unlike in some states in the US, there’s no “direct access” to PT in France, where you can just make a physical therapy appointment directly, if you have a problem.
If you don’t have a doctor yet, look for “médecins sans rendez-vous.” These are doctors that don’t take appointments and instead have daily drop-in hours. It’s generally quicker to see these doctors, though you may have to wait a bit if others are in line before you. You can also try making an appointment on DoctoLib, a platform that allows you to search for doctors and other health specialists, see their availability, and book an appointment. I haven’t used this platform myself, but a friend recommended it to me. And of course, you can always just give offices a call to make an appointment, if you don’t want to deal with making an account.
Once you’re at the doctor, they may actually examine you, and they may not. I had a pretty lax doctor in Dijon (sometimes concerningly lax—she literally kept her dogs in her office!) who just listened to me describe my symptoms, and wrote me a referral for 10 physical therapy sessions (they tend to come in 10, but I was leaving France soon and only had time for 5 sessions). Take good care of that referral/prescription, as you’ll need to bring it to your physical therapist.
Your doctor likely won’t refer you to a specific PT—you’ll have to find one on your own. You can again use DoctoLib, or just pick the closest physical therapy clinic to you with the best reviews on Google (what I did).
All the prescriptions I needed for my ankle injury: physical therapy, ultrasound, x-ray, bone scan, crutches, painkillers
How Are Physical Therapists Trained in France?
Physical therapists in France may sometimes look younger than you expect, and that’s because PT training is more accelerated in France vs. the US (as is training for all medical professions). A physical therapy degree is actually a bachelor’s in France, while it’s a doctorate in the US (I asked my French PT to explain the system to me, as I’ve always been interested in physical therapy as a runner, and I would definitely be one in another life).
Students in France go directly to medical school after high school, and aspiring PTs take the same courses in their first year as aspiring doctors, pharmacists, dentists, and other medical professions. After the first year (which is incredibly competitive—there’s even a drama-comedy film about the first year of French med school called Première année), students take an exam, which determines what specialty they’re able to pursue. PT students go on to do another 3 years of training, for a total of 4 years to earn their degree.
In the US, students must first get a bachelor’s degree (4 years) and complete many required science courses. From there, they can apply to physical therapy school, which is another 3 years. While you might think that US physical therapists are sure to be better-trained given their extra years of schooling, French physical therapists aren’t inferior. Both French and American PTs get the same number of years of PT-specific training, and that’s what really counts. I definitely found my French PT just as competent as the ones I’ve seen in the US.
Cost of Physical Therapy in France
This is the big question, and you’ll like the response. Physical therapy costs in France can vary, but they are MUCH cheaper (with and without insurance) than in the US. I paid around 110€ for 5 appointments before insurance, which is about 22€/session (24 USD). Let me reiterate that this is WITHOUT insurance!
I did have state-granted insurance (called la sécurité sociale) as I was working in France, so I got around 50% reimbursed. This came out to around 11€/session, or just over 12 USD. This is really insane, as in the US, you can easily pay $100+ for one appointment without insurance, and $20-30 with insurance (not including the “deductible,” which is an amount you must meet before insurance applies). Basically, the pre-insurance rates in France are the same as post-insurance rates in the United States.
In general, you can expect to pay around 20-30€ without insurance, and about 50% of that if you have French insurance (you might even get it fully reimbursed if you paid for extra coverage under la mutuelle). If you want to be positive about the costs, you should always ask for rates before making an appointment.
Of course, this doesn’t factor in the cost of seeing the regular doctor for your referral. The set rate of seeing a general practitioner in France is 25€ before insurance, and 8,50€ after (or even cheaper if you have extra coverage). Note that you must first declare a primary care physician to get the lower rate, otherwise you’ll pay around 17€ after insurance (ask for a déclaration du médecin traitant at your French insurance office).
While you’re at your doctor’s, you should ask if they think you need x-rays, an ultrasound, or a bone scan for your injury, as you don’t want to have to go back for more prescriptions if your PT recommends them (physical therapists can’t write those prescriptions). You’ll also be happy to know that these procedures cost way less in France too, at around 20-30€ without insurance, and 10-15€ with.
A quick note: your physical therapist may or may not charge you after each appointment; mine only charged me after my last appointment for all the sessions I’d done. You should ask ahead of time if the office takes card, as mine was cash and check only.
My Experience Getting Physical Therapy in France
Here’s the whole story: I rolled my ankle skiing in February, kept running on it for 3 months (and even did the Paris Marathon), and then it caught up to me when I started doing more trail running. At one point, it started hurting just to walk, so I knew I needed to get rehab for my ankle.
After getting my PT referral, I made an appointment at the physical therapy clinic in my neighborhood in Dijon. At my initial appointment, my PT simply asked about my symptoms to evaluate the problems, did some mobility tests, and showed me some strengthening exercises. From then on, my appointments were mostly made up of sports massage and strengthening exercises. Each appointment was around 30 minutes, and I had one weekly. All of this is pretty typical of most physical therapy appointments in the States too, and I imagine it’s the same across the world.
My physical therapist recommended that I get an ultrasound to see whether my tendons were inflamed, and to also get an x-ray and bone scan to check for a bone injury. Ultrasounds in France are more commonly used to diagnose soft-tissue injury than in the US (Americans may have only heard of them in the context of pregnancy). The ultrasound and x-ray were super easy to schedule, and I got appointments within the same week. Unfortunately, the nearest appointment for a bone scan was 3 weeks out (this is typical in France for bone scans and MRIs).
In the end, I only had soft-tissue injuries, so after a couple more weeks of strengthening exercises and PT appointments, I was able to return to running.
Basically, the process of getting physical therapy in France was a lot simpler and cheaper than I expected, and the only thing I wish I’d done differently is to have gone sooner!
If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to reach out. I also have a guide to healthcare in France for American expats if you have more questions about French healthcare.