Physiotherapy is a holistic treatment that helps to restore movement and function, using physical methods such as massage, manipulation and exercise. There are a number of conditions where physiotherapy is used for mobility treatment or pain relief. This may include treating the joints, muscles and bones after injury, illness or disability.
Physiotherapy can also help with conditions that affect your lungs, heart circulation, nerves and brain. Often used to improve mobility and strengthen muscles, physiotherapy can also help recovery after surgery.
How can physiotherapy help?
There are many reasons why a person may need physiotherapy, including:
- Back, neck or shoulder pain and sports injuries.
- Problems involving the brain or nervous system, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson’s disease.
- Heart and circulation problems, such as rehabilitation after a heart attack.
- Problems involving the chest, lungs and breathing, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia and cystic fibrosis.
- Arthritis and other joint-related problems, such as stiffness, pain or swelling.
Physiotherapy tends to be a combination of ‘hands-on’ care carried out by a physiotherapist, exercise prescription and self-management techniques (for which you can continue your treatment long after sessions are over).
What to expect in a session
Whether you have been referred for physiotherapy by your GP or are attending private sessions, it’s likely you will have an initial consultation to discuss the issue, and what it is you want to gain from the treatment. You will also discuss your medical history, to help determine any previous health worries or injuries that may affect treatment.
During the examination, you may need to remove the clothing around the area. It is important you are comfortable during sessions, so if you’re worried, be sure to speak to the therapist.
After the examination, the physiotherapist will suggest the course of therapy they believe will be most beneficial for you. They will give you an overview of the treatment plan, explaining the techniques and the ideal number of sessions. If treating an illness, the physiotherapist may advise you on how to minimise the effects of the illness on daily life. For injury, they will advise you on ways you can prevent further problems.
There are a number of techniques, though the method best for you will depend on why you need physiotherapy. Common techniques include:
Massage (manual therapy) - To improve circulation, the therapist may use massage techniques. Using their hands with light pressure, they will make slow movements around the specific area. This method can be used to drain excess fluid from your lymphatic system.
Massage can also be used to complement other types of physiotherapy. For example, to relax your muscles and reduce pain, the therapist may focus on your ligaments, tendons and muscles, using stroking and kneading movements. These movements may vary in pressure.
Manipulation - When using manipulation, the physiotherapist will move your specific joint in incredibly precise movements. They may move it further than feels normal. This is OK but if you’re uncomfortable, speak up. The manipulation technique requires a small amount of pressure and so, professionals must be suitably qualified. The aim of manipulation is to reduce stiffness and pain.
Ambulation exercises - These exercises are employed to help you regain, or improve, your ability to walk. Typically, the process starts with you trying to walk while holding onto bars for support. After a number of sessions, you may move on to begin walking with less assistance (such as a walking stick or frame). With progress and when you’re ready, you’ll reduce the level of support and begin navigating uneven surfaces, such as kerbs and stairs.
Motion exercises - Motion exercises are used to increase your range of motion. Stroke, injury or living a sedentary lifestyle can impact your flexibility and motion. This also deteriorates as you grow older. While the exercises used will differ depending on the severity of your case, therapists will usually incorporate repeated exercises and stretches to increase movement.
Muscle-strengthening exercises - These exercises work to enhance your physical ability and stamina. In some instances, they are also used to strengthen your core - the muscles integral to maintaining balance and good posture.
Coordination exercises - Coordination exercises are used typically to improve your balance and coordination. They may be simple movements and exercises but repeated for a longer period of time. For example, you may be asked to pick something up and put it down again, repeatedly. This technique can be particularly helpful for brain injuries or stroke.
Hydrotherapy - Hydrotherapy is a water-based therapy, which utilises the relaxing, pain-relieving benefits of warm water. The water can help to loosen and support joints and muscles, and promote muscles strengthening, as a result of the added resistance. You do not need to know how to swim to reap the benefits of hydrotherapy.
Electrotherapy - Electrotherapy is the general term for a group of techniques that involve a very low-level electrical energy to reduce pain and encourage healing. Often used in conjunction with other types of physiotherapy, the technique does not hurt and is commonly described as a ‘tingle’.
Pilates - The gentle movement and stretching of Pilates can be incorporated into exercise programmes as part of the treatment. Typically, the first session will last about an hour, before sessions reduce to 30 to 45 minutes. A physical examination may be required to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to better understand your condition.
Acupuncture within physiotherapy
A growing area of interest within the physiotherapy industry is medical acupuncture. Many physiotherapists are now trained in acupuncture to form an integrated approach to pain management.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine, sterilised needles into certain points of the body. Part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture has been practised for many years. Chinese acupuncture is based on the idea that Qi (energy) when blocked can cause illness in the body. By using the needles, you are able to relieve these blockages, thus restoring balance within the body.
Medical acupuncture is a form of the traditional technique, which is based on clinical research. It is believed that the insertion of needles can ease pain by stimulating the brain and spinal cord. It is common for physiotherapists to incorporate medical acupuncture into their treatment plan to help those with musculoskeletal issues.
If you have any questions about any of the techniques, what to expect and how they help, be sure to ask, the physiotherapist will be able to explain more.
How to get physiotherapy
Anyone can have physiotherapy and you don’t need to have experienced injury for treatment. Sessions can take place in many settings, from hospitals and outpatient clinics to at home, school, work, or at fitness centres.
If you need physiotherapy, there are a number of different options available. You can see a physiotherapist through the NHS, through a referral from your doctor or self-referral, depending on your location. You may also be able to see a physiotherapist directly through your GP surgery. Some physiotherapists also work in GP practices, particularly as the first point of contact for those with neck and back pain, or long-term conditions such as MS, or stroke rehabilitation.
You may also seek private physiotherapy. Waiting lists can be long for those wanting physiotherapy through the NHS, and so some people choose to have private, paid-for treatment instead. The cost of private physiotherapy can vary, depending on your location and the physiotherapist, so be sure to ask during initial contact.
Physiotherapy may also be available through your workplace as part of occupational health services.
Finding a professional
Seeking private treatment can seem daunting, but there are plenty of resources available to help and guide you through the process. All physiotherapists need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practice. To gain approval from the HCPC, professionals must complete an approved BSc degree or graduate diploma in physiotherapy.
Here at Therapy Directory, you can search for a physiotherapist using our search tool. Members are encouraged to include as much information as possible in their profiles, so you can learn more about how they work, as well as check their experience and qualifications.
All physiotherapists listed on Therapy Directory have met the requirements of our proof policy, and are registered members of the HCPC.