Physiotherapy is a form of medicine, which is founded on scientific research and knowledge. Physiotherapy is an extremely versatile discipline, which is used to treat a huge variety of different people and health conditions. Physiotherapy is also used in a variety of different settings.

Physiotherapy is usually used to help restore the body back to its normal condition following an accident, illness or injury. It focuses primarily on improving the condition and subsequent function of the muscles, joints and limbs, but also provides a multi-faceted approach to improving standards of general health by encouraging the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.

In more complex terms physiotherapy is defined as,

How does physiotherapy work?

Physiotherapy works by using a number of different methods to gradually increase the strength of the muscles, bones and connective tissues in the body; this helps to increase the range of movement and flexibility around the joints. The method used usually depends on the individual case and the nature of the patient’s illness and general health. Physiotherapy is designed to enhance the body’s movement; the philosophy is founded on the belief that general health will be better if the muscles and joints function effectively.

Another major part of physiotherapy is education; physiotherapists are keen to teach patients how to improve and maintain standards of general health, as well as treating specific injuries. Education is usually centred on making positive lifestyle choices and teaching patients to cope with any temporary or lasting effects of an illness with the greatest possible degree of independence.

Which conditions does physiotherapy aid?

The range of conditions eased by physiotherapy is vast; as well as the more obvious cases, such as sports injuries and traumatic accidents, physiotherapy is also used to treat health conditions including respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Examples of common conditions treated with physiotherapy are listed below:

  • Traumatic injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Heart and lung disease
  • Back and neck pain
  • Sciatica
  • Strokes
  • Muscular dystrophy

Is physiotherapy available on the NHS?

Physiotherapy is an integral part of NHS care and is provided by the vast majority of NHS Primary Care Trusts. Some physiotherapists work for the NHS, some work privately and some do a combination of both. Visiting a private physiotherapist will be a lot more expensive, but generally waiting lists are much shorter so treatment can be arranged much quicker.

How much do private physiotherapists charge?

Some patients may be covered by private medical health insurance; however it is best to check the details of the policy thoroughly before you decide to get private treatment. As a general guide, private physiotherapists charge in the region of £25 to £50 per half hour session; prices vary considerably according to the location of the clinic and the level of expertise, experience and reputation of the physiotherapist (clinics in the South are more expensive than those in the North, as a general rule).

Where do physiotherapists work?

Physiotherapy is such a versatile discipline that it is now used in a large range of different settings; these include:

  • Hospitals (both private and NHS)- within the hospital physiotherapists work in intensive care, women’s health, cancer care, stroke units, mental health wards and in outpatient care. Physiotherapists also work alongside occupation health therapists.
  • Nursing and residential homes
  • Paediatric units
  • Geriatric units
  • Schools (usually schools for children with special needs and disabilities)
  • In the community
  • Sports settings

Who can benefit from physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy can benefit an enormous range of people as it is a very popular form of rehabilitation for a variety of different health conditions. Below are a few examples of the kinds of people that can benefit from physiotherapy:

  • The elderly: elderly people often suffer with stiff joints and muscular aches and pains; physiotherapy can help to reduce pain and tension in the muscles, strengthen the muscles and connective tissue and gradually increase the range of motion in the joints. Common conditions in the elderly include osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and hip joint problems; these conditions can all be improved by physiotherapy. Physiotherapy also allows elderly people to keep fit and healthy and allows them to maintain a level of independence.
  • Sports players: sports players regularly experience both acute and chronic injuries; physiotherapy is often used to restore strength to damaged bones, muscles and tissue and subsequently improve movement in the joints and limbs. Physiotherapy helps to speed up recovery and make the body more resistant to injuries in the future.
  • Children: physiotherapy can help a range of illnesses that affect young children, including muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and spina bifida (many children are born with these conditions). Physiotherapy can be used to increase strength, improve balance and coordination and encourage movement.
  • Women: women often suffer a number of health conditions which can cause discomfort and pain; these conditions include severe menstrual pains, pelvic pain and weak bones. Physiotherapy helps to relieve pain and strengthen the bones; it is also often beneficial for pregnant women.
  • Patients with serious health conditions: patients who are suffering from serious health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory problems and strokes can benefit from physiotherapy; specific exercises help to improve circulation, improve breathing and gradually restore muscle strength. Physiotherapy uses non-invasive methods, which work alongside traditional medical treatments to improve the overall condition of the patient; in the case of more severe medical conditions, treatment will often be very gentle and gradual.

Do I need a referral to see a physiotherapist?

In many cases, patients are referred to a physiotherapist either by their GP or as part of their care in hospital or another care setting (such as a nursing home, for example); however, private patients do not need to be referred by their GP to see a physiotherapist.

How do I find a physiotherapist?

If you are being referred for physiotherapy by your GP or as part of your NHS hospital care, this will all be arranged for you. If you want to have private physiotherapy, you can ask your GP for advice, ask friends, colleagues or relatives for any recommendations and research local practices on the internet. You should make sure your physiotherapist is registered with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP); this is a legal requirement. You can use the search engine on the CSP website to look for physiotherapists in your local area.

Is physiotherapy painful?

In many cases, the methods undertaken as part of physiotherapy are used to eradicate pain, rather than cause it. However, patients who have suffered a complex bone, muscle or joint injury may experience pain during their treatment; this is because physiotherapy aims to gradually restore strength and movement in the area as the injury heals and initially this may be painful because the injury will have prevented any movement for a period of time; as the injury recovers and the affected area gets used to moving again, pain will wear away. Gentler methods are used to treat young children and the elderly.

Are there any side effects?

In the majority of cases, patients do not suffer any side effects; however, some patients may feel slightly achy after a physiotherapy session. This delayed mild pain is associated with the muscles making movements they are not used to, not because of the treatment itself; over the course of time, patients will feel their bodies getting used to the exercises and will not suffer any aches or pains.

How long does a physiotherapy session last?

Most patients have sessions that last between 30 minutes and an hour, although this depends on the nature of the individual case. Patients with serious health conditions and are very ill may only be able to cope with very short sessions of physiotherapy.

How many sessions will I need?

This will completely depend upon the nature of your health condition. Usually, patients have a couple of sessions each week until their condition has improved enough for them to cope on their own. Some injuries heal much quicker than others, while some chronic conditions may require ongoing conditions.

Does physiotherapy work?

The overwhelming feeling amongst health experts is that physiotherapy is a highly effective means of treatment for a huge range of health conditions. Physiotherapy has foundations in science and is consistently proven to aid traditional medical treatments. Physiotherapy is considered as a fundamental part of NHS healthcare and is frequently used as a complementary method to support medical care.

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