Definition and Overview

Physiotherapy is a branch of health care that deals with physical disorders by optimizing movement and function. Specifically, physiotherapy involves the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of various diseases and injuries using a variety of physical means and techniques. Physiotherapy is often used interchangeably with the term physical therapy.

The primary aim of physiotherapy is the restoration of movement. In order to do this, physiotherapists utilize a variety of methods, which includes manual therapy, exercise, and education. With this form of treatment, a holistic approach is employed; instead of treating just the specific body part, physiotherapists look into the patient's condition as a whole. Aside from managing the specific disability, your physiotherapist will also give recommendations on how to improve your health and well-being, in general. For example, patients who have chronic back pain may also be encouraged to lose weight and learn core exercises to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. Patient participation and empowerment are important aspects of the therapy and help encourage the patients to be as independent as they possibly can be.

Physiotherapists are typically included in a multi-disciplinary medical team. This rehabilitation team typically includes physicians, nurses, therapists and other healthcare professionals who work together to formulate a patient-centered treatment plan based on the patient's specific symptoms and needs. Communication is the key to the success of physiotherapy. The physiotherapist communicates actively with the rest of the team, the patient, and even the patient's family regarding his disorder. The patient undergoes a series of re-assessment, and new goals are formulated, depending on his progress.

The length of your physiotherapy treatment depends on a number of factors. Your diagnosis, the degree of your injury or impairments, and your present status all play a role. Physiotherapy sessions are usually conducted two to three times every week; however, some long-standing conditions may require more frequent treatments. Depending on your injuries, your physiotherapist can also help you learn how to use and live with assistive devices, such as crutches, wheelchairs, and even prosthetic limbs. Treatment is best started early to prevent the development of chronic inflammation, scar tissue, and adhesions, which can further worsen the situation.

Physiotherapy can be performed in different settings and healthcare sectors, including public and private hospitals, health clinics, community centers, sports clubs, rehabilitation facilities, and even in some offices and schools.

When should you see a Physiotherapist?

There are many instances in a patient's life where he will find the need for a physiotherapist. Injury or pain of any sort and the development of medical conditions such as heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are some of the situations where physiotherapy will definitely be of help. Physiotherapists treat people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

Physiotherapists address a broad range of health disorders that affect specific systems in the body. These systems include neurologic, musculoskeletal, respiratory and cardiovascular, to name a few. Neurological physiotherapy deals with patients who develop medical conditions such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebrovascular disease or stroke. Musculoskeletal physiotherapy, on the other hand, manages arthritis, chronic back pains, sports-related injuries, and trauma. Respiratory physiotherapy is centered on the pulmonary system and helps improve diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. Cardiovascular physiotherapy is used to assist the patient while recovering from a heart attack or open-heart surgery.

Aside from these, physiotherapists are also trained in a number of other areas of rehabilitation. These include mental health, intensive care, postoperative care, and even health in the workplace. Some physiotherapists are also involved in non-clinical aspect of medical care, such as research, education and service.

Physiotherapists use a wide range of approaches and techniques to help you recover from your illness. The foremost technique they utilize is exercise. Different exercises are prescribed for a patient, depending on his specific requirements. These exercises help strengthen the body parts affected by the condition and encourage patients to move around. You may also be advised to participate in light activities such as instance walking to further improve your mobility, especially if you're recovering from an injury. Breathing exercises and techniques to clear up the airway may also be taught, to strengthen the muscles used for respiration. Exercises are regularly repeated for a certain period of time to produce favorable results.

Aside from exercise, physiotherapists also use manual therapy technique. This makes use of the hands in order to stretch the joints and improve the motion and mobility of certain body parts. It also reduces pain and increases the circulation of the blood to the different areas of the body. An example of manual therapy is massage. The different forms of manual therapy have been shown to provide benefit to patients with certain kinds of musculoskeletal disorders, such as those with persistent, chronic low back pain.

Physiotherapists also make use of a number of other methods of treatment. These include:

  • Acupuncture – this uses very fine needles to stimulate various points in the body to relieve pain and inflammation as well as promote relaxation.

  • Ultrasound – this uses sound waves to penetrate the deep tissues in the body, promoting blood flow, cell activity, and regeneration.

  • Cold/ Ice therapy - constricting blood vessels after application, ice is an effective way to reduce and even prevent inflammation immediately following an injury. Cold therapy can also leave the joint more mobile and enhance manual therapy. Applying cold packs to inflamed areas has been shown to significantly reduce swelling in soft tissue injuries

  • Heat therapy - Decreasing pain and increasing mobility after some injuries to complement manual massage/ stretching

  • Hydrotherapy – this is performed in water and against gentle water pressure to increase circulation and induce relaxation while at the same time strengthen muscle groups and improve coordination.

  • Some physiotherapists may also use TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. This method uses a mild burst of electrical energy to reduce pain sensation.


  • Physiotherapy Evidence Database:

  • The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy:
Share This Information: