What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a health profession concerned with maximizing mobility and quality of life by using clinical reasoning to select and apply the appropriate treatment. It involves treatment of disease or injury by resolving the cause of dysfunction through the use of physical modalities, individualized exercises, manual therapy, and education based upon a detailed assessment that considers the individual’s physical, social, occupational and mental factors.

A common misconception is that physiotherapists only deal with injuries to backs, necks, joints, muscles and other ‘sports’ type injuries. While many physiotherapists certainly do treat these types of conditions, there are other areas in which physiotherapists are trained and can help you.

For simple explanation, physiotherapy can be divided into three broad areas.

  • musculoskeletal physiotherapy
  • cardiothoracic physiotherapy
  • neurological physiotherapy
Who needs Physiotherapy?

You need physiotherapy if you suffer from:

  • musculoskeletal pain or stiffness
  • inflammation
  • headaches
  • injuries to your muscles, ligaments, joints and other soft tissues
  • sports injuries
  • repetitive strains and sprains like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • postural problems
  • muscle weakness
  • chest conditions
  • stress incontinence
  • stroke or other neurological conditions
What type of treatment will I receive?

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy (Orthopaedics)

As the name suggests, this area deals with muscles, bones and joints, and is perhaps the most widely known. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists can deal with many acute or chronic conditions such as:

  • back and neck pain or stiffness
  • muscle strains/contusions
  • joint sprains/stiffness/instability
  • arthritis
  • muscle imbalances/weakness
  • muscle spasm
  • tendonitis/bursitis
  • rehabilitation following occupational injury, surgery, sporting injuries.

The physiotherapist uses a variety of different treatment methods to help speed up the healing process and reduce the likelihood of the same thing happening again. Some of the techniques include:

  • manual techniques (massage, joint mobilisation, manipulation, stretches)
  • electrotherapy (ultrasound, interferential, TENS, shortwave, microwave, laser)
  • heat and cold
  • therapeutic exercise
  • correction of posture, lifting techniques, sporting techniques which contribute to the problem
  • taping, bandaging, splinting
  • hydrotherapy

The physiotherapist is not only concerned with treating the injury, but with finding the cause and correcting any biomechanical factors which may contribute to the injury.

Cardiothoracic Physiotherapy

Cardiothoracic physiotherapy deal primarily with the function of the cardiorespiratory system. The physiotherapist, often working in the acute hospital, deals with a variety of situations, some of them being:

  • chronic obstructive airways disease (emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis)
  • following general surgery
  • general medical conditions
  • following cardiac surgery
  • following most types of thoracic surgery
  • intensive care unit patients

The physiotherapist aims to optimize the function of the cardiothoracic system and patient comfort, resulting in increased exercise tolerance, a reduced chance of developing complications such as chest infections, reduced shortness of breath, and a reduced length of stay in hospital.

Some of the treatment techniques at the physiotherapists disposal are:
  • breathing techniques either to reduce shortness of breath or increase lung expansion
  • patient positioning
  • sputum clearance with percussions, vibrations, coughing, deep breathing, suction
  • mobilising, sitting out of bed, or walking
  • oxygen therapy
  • mechanical ventilators
  • medications
  • exercise programs

Neurological Physiotherapy

Neurological Physiotherapy, as the name suggests, is concerned with disorders of the nervous system. The physiotherapist is involved in the assessment and treatment of patients suffering conditions such as:

  • acquired brain injuries/head injuries
  • strokes
  • brain surgery
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Guillian-Barre syndrome
  • balance disorders
  • spinal cord injuries
  • other neurological conditions

The physiotherapist is involved in determining how these conditions affect the patients movement and function, and implementing strategies to regain maximum function, depending on the type of disorder.