The Charted Society of Physiotherapy defines physiotherapy as “Physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore physical, psychological and social well-being, taking account of variations in health status. Physiotherapy is science-based, committed to extending, applying, evaluating and reviewing the evidence that underpins and informs its practice and delivery. The exercise of clinical judgement and informed interpretation is at its core." It can be used by people of all ages and state of health. It is used to restore mobility and function in individuals who are disabled, ill or have suffered an injury. Physiotherapists take a holistic view of the person, aiming to see the problem in the context of the person as a whole.
Physiotherapists are trained to diagnose and treat many different conditions. There are broadly four types of complaint: -
- Neurological- these are conditions relating to the brain or nervous system. People who have suffered a stroke, have multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, for example.
- Neuromuscular- any problems with joints, the skeleton or muscles or tendons. Examples are sports injuries, back pain or knee pain.
- Cardiovascular- conditions relating to the circulatory system or the heart- sufferers of high blood pressure or people recovering from a heart attack, for example.
- Respiratory- this includes sufferers of cystic fibrosis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. It relates to any conditions connected to the lungs and breathing.
As a physiotherapist would look at a patient holistically, their focus would be to educate and advise them how to avoid the problem reoccurring. They would inform the patient of the correct way to lift and carry, how to modify their diet and how to function in a way that avoids pain and injury. The posture will be examined to see if it is affecting the problem. The aim is to improve the overall wellbeing of their patient. They may suggest an exercise regime to improve health and mobility, and to strengthen the body. Manual therapy is an important part of physiotherapy, and would be part of most treatment plans. Manual therapy involves the physiotherapist using massage, manipulation and mobilisation to help to reduce any pain and stiffness, encourage blood flow into the problem area, encourage any excess fluid to drain away and help the patient to become more mobile. This should also give an increased sense of relaxation.
Physiotherapy can be beneficial to anxiety sufferers who find it difficult to relax, as well as helping to reduce anxiety and aid restful sleep. It can be used by individuals who are not suffering from a health issue. Women who want to start a family can benefit, by preparing their bodies for pregnancy, and after the birth. Individuals may use physiotherapy to maintain health and fitness (for example sportsmen and women), or the elderly, to remain fit and able to stay independent. It is important to remember that the patient must play a part in achieving their goal- be it to be pain free, more flexible or fitter. They will be given exercises to do at home as well as lifestyle modification as part of the treatment plan.
Photo of people out walking
Exercise regimes are individually designed in order to help regain mobility and strength and improve the range of movement in joints and muscles. They will be for a set length of time, and a set number. You may be required to do stretching exercises. The aim is to increase flexibility and decrease stiffness. The advice may include activities to help health and fitness generally- such as walking or swimming. Depending on the individual, advice may include how to gently increase the level of fitness. In order to help with mobility, mobility aids such as crutches or walking sticks may be required.
There is a wide remit of treatment options which a physiotherapist is able to select from in order to devise an individual treatment plan. When you come for a consultation, the physiotherapist will want to talk to you about the nature of the problem. They will ask about any pre-existing conditions, and any medication you are taking. They will want to examine you, to determine the extent of the problem. Once they have ruled out your problem being a serious health concern, they will propose a treatment plan. They will also give you some general advice to help to improve your wellbeing, relating to diet and exercise. The first appointment will last approximately an hour, with subsequent appointments being shorter.
Neuromuscular problems are one of the most common areas of complaints physiotherapists deal with. They are one of the most common reasons for people taking time off of work. Back and neck pain affects many people, and can arise from different causes. Stress can make the pain feel worse. Physiotherapy can speed up the recovery time and help prevent the same problem happening again. In a consultation the physiotherapist would determine the cause of the pain, and will probably use manual therapy. Sometimes acupuncture is used – this involves fine needles being inserted at specific points. They would also advise you about exercise and diet. Studies have confirmed the effectiveness of physiotherapy to treat these conditions.1,2
Chronic pain is defined as pain left after a condition has ‘healed’, when 3-6 months have passed. It can be very debilitating, and can affect work, leisure, sleep and moods. Any age can experience chronic pain, in any area of the body. The pain can feel worse if you are depressed or anxious, and better when you are happy and relaxed. A physiotherapist could help in the management of the pain, and show you ways of relaxing. They may use massage, or give advice on your posture or any equipment which may help.
Physio adjusting persons posture
A vast number of complaints can be helped by physiotherapy. Diabetics can suffer long term complications. A programme could be developed to help the insulin work more effectively, help weight loss, decrease high blood pressure, decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and help to manage stress. People who suffer from breathing related complaints such as bronchitis, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be given help to decrease breathlessness, hyperventilation and to clear phlegm from the lungs. Positioning and breathing exercises would be taught, and how to pace activities in daily life. Whatever the complaint, a physiotherapist is in a position to give valuable advice, tools to help and hands on therapy.
- Torstensen, T et al. ‘Efficiency and Costs of Medical Exercise Therapy, Conventional Physiotherapy, and Self-Exercise in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: A Pragmatic, Randomized Single-Blinded Controlled Trial with 1 Year Follow-Up’. Spine 1998 vol 23 issue 23 p2616-2624.
- Mckinney, L ‘The Role of Physiotherapy in the Management of Acute Neck Sprains Following Road-Traffic Accidents’. Arch Emerg Med vol 6 p27-33.