Do you know what physiotherapy is or the amazing things it can do for you? If you answered no, you are not alone. A recent study in Northumberland concluded that ‘most people think physiotherapists just massage, or just give exercises.’ While physiotherapists do use these techniques, that isn’t all they do. Not knowing the full extent of a physiotherapist’s work can limit your ability to get the best, drug-free therapy available.
“Our goal is prevention and injury management by improving, maintaining, and maximising your mobility. To do this, we use specialised hands-on skills to evaluate and treat symptoms.” Paul Butler (Physiotherapist) BSC, CSP, HPC.
What Can Physiotherapists Treat?
Thanks to extensive education and training, physiotherapists are qualified to help people overcome a wide range of physical health problems, including:
- Bone and joint conditions
- Heart and lung conditions
- Neurological conditions (those affecting the brain and nervous system)
- Childhood conditions
- Conditions that occur in old age
Bone and Joint Conditions
One of the main areas that physiotherapy focuses on is the treatment of conditions and injuries that affect the bones and joints. In particular, physiotherapists often help patients who are recovering from orthopaedic surgery (surgery to correct damage to or deformities of the bones or joints).
The physiotherapist may devise a programme that includes strength training and exercise to help improve co-ordination and balance. They may also use electrical stimulation (using small electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves and muscles).
Heart and Lung Conditions
Physiotherapists may treat people who have:
- Had a heart attack
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a collection of lung conditions including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease
- Cystic fibrosis
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder where mucus inside the body becomes thick and sticky, clogging the lungs and other organs. ‘Clapping’ on a patient’s back while they are lying down can help loosen the build-up of mucus in the lungs so it can be coughed up. Physiotherapists also teach people with cystic fibrosis to help clear the mucus themselves and may work with a child’s parents to teach these methods to them.
Physiotherapists can help people with conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, such as:
- Strokes: a serious condition where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off
- Multiple sclerosis: a condition that affects the central nervous system, which controls functions of the body, such as movement and balance
- Parkinson’s disease: a chronic (long-term) condition that affects the way the brain co-ordinates the body’s movements
- Cerebral palsy: a condition where brain damage affects a child’s movement and co-ordination
- Spina bifida: a brain condition that causes a deformity of the spine
As well as affecting a person’s co-ordination, neurological conditions can sometimes cause muscle pain and even paralysis, which can seriously inhibit a person’s independence.
Physiotherapists treat children with musculoskeletal conditions (which affect the bones and muscles). For example, muscular dystrophy is a congenital condition (present from birth) where a person’s muscles gradually become weaker over time, leading to a loss of strength and mobility. In such cases, a physiotherapist may be able to use a treatment programme that will help the person maintain muscle strength, increase flexibility and prevent stiffening of the joints.
Conditions That Occur In Old Age
Physiotherapists often treat conditions that are common in old age, such as:
- Arthritis, which causes pain and inflammation of the joints
- Osteoporosis, where the bones become thin and brittle
They also often help patients who are recovering from joint replacement surgery.
As well as this, physiotherapists play an important role in the general care and continued well-being of elderly people, by improving their overall health and fitness to help them stay active and independent.