Background. Although physiotherapy (PT) plays an important role in improving activities of daily living (ADL functioning) and discharge rates, it is unclear how many nursing home residents receive treatment. Furthermore, there is a lack of insight into the determinants that influence the decision for treatment. In this study, we investigated how many nursing home residents receive PT. In addition, we analysed the factors that contribute to the variation in the provision of PT both between nursing homes and between residents. Methods. A random sample of 600 elderly residents was taken from a random sample of 15 nursing homes. Residents had to be admitted for rehabilitation or for long-term care. Data were collected through interviews with the nursing home physician and the physiotherapist. Multilevel analysis was used to define the variation in the provision of PT and the factors that are associated with the question whether a resident receives PT or not. Furthermore the amount of PT provided was analysed and the factors that are associated with this. Results. On average 69% of the residents received PT. The percentage of patients receiving treatment differed significantly across nursing homes, and especially the number of physiotherapists available, explained this difference between nursing homes. Residents admitted to a somatic ward for rehabilitation, and male residents in general, were most likely to receive PT. Residents who were treated by a physiotherapist received on average 55 minutes (sd 41) treatment a week. Residents admitted for rehabilitation received more PT a week, as were residents with a status after a total hip replacement. Conclusion. PT is most likely to be provided to residents on a somatic ward, recently admitted for rehabilitation to a nursing home, which has a relatively large number of physiotherapists. This suggests a potential under-use of PT for long-term residents with cognitive problems. It is recommended that physiotherapists reconsider which residents may benefit from treatment. This may require a shift in the focus of physiotherapists from 'recovery and discharge' to 'quality of life and well-being'.