Physiotherapy is a form of treatment that helps to restore, maintain and maximise strength, function, movement and overall well-being. Through the use of exercise and equipment, physiotherapists help people regain muscle strength and joint mobility after an injury or when recovering from conditions such as Parkinson’s and stroke.
What Do Physiotherapists Do?
Physiotherapists are allied health professionals who have an in-depth knowledge of how the body works and specialised hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat injury and disability.
Trained to pinpoint the root cause of injuries and other ailments, a physiotherapist will first assess your holistic health and wellbeing, before determining the kind of movements and exercises you can and should do to aid in recovery, taking into consideration a multitude of factors including your individual needs, conditions and mobility.
There are various approaches that a physiotherapist may use to treat and manage your condition, including movement and exercise, manual therapy and hydrotherapy.
Here are some of the common treatment methods and techniques physiotherapists use:
Movement and Exercise
After assessing an individual’s condition, mobility and ability to do physical activity, your physiotherapist may prescribe a set of physical exercises you can safely do at home to increase the range of movement of your joints, strengthen muscle, and improve balance and coordination. This can help in injury prevention and recovery, as well as managing chronic conditions.
An injury may cause our joint movements to be limited. As such, physiotherapists may apply various techniques to help us loosen up affected joints, tissues and muscles.
One example is passive movements. These are movements performed by someone else and not ourselves but are within our control as we can stop it anytime by tensing up our muscles. Another technique is manipulation, where the joint is pushed past its limits, beyond the individual’s control. However, this is more common in osteopaths and chiropractors as compared to physiotherapists. When necessary, a physiotherapist may also perform massage to help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Commonly used to treat rheumatological, orthopaedic and neurological disorders, hydrotherapy involves exercising in a warm shallow pool with a temperature of 33-36ºC.
There are several benefits that are unique to hydrotherapy. Firstly, the warmth of the water aids in muscle relaxation and eases joint pains. Secondly, being underwater also supports our weight, allowing our joints and muscles to move with minimal stress. Furthermore, water resistance against our movement can boost muscle strength.
With hydrotherapy, individuals are able to conduct exercises which they would not have been able to perform out of water without over-stressing joints. This approach could be especially useful for individuals with arthritis.
Some physiotherapists may use acupuncture, the practice of inserting fine needles into the skin to treat inflammation and pain. Acupuncture has long been recognised as an effective treatment for chronic pain, including back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain. It has also been proven to help cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, alleviate pain from menstrual cramps and improve fertility.
However, just like any other approach, the effectiveness of acupuncture varies from person to person. In particular, those who are on medication, have a pacemaker, are at risk of infection, have chronic infection, or are pregnant, may have to consult a medical professional before deciding to proceed with acupuncture.
When we think of ultrasound, pregnancy is often the first thing that pops into our mind. However, besides its more widely known application of generating images of the womb, ultrasound can be used in physiotherapy as well.
One way physiotherapists use ultrasound is to provide deep heating to soft tissues, increasing blood circulation and therefore promote healing and reduce pain. The second way, called cavitation, uses the ultrasound energy to cause rapid contraction and expansion of microscopic gas bubbles around injured tissue, accelerating the healing process.
Common conditions that physiotherapists may treat with ultrasound include carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, tendonitis, ligament injuries and joint tightness.
Traction is a manual technique of ‘stretching’ the spine to relieve pressure off the vertebral discs that are causing pain, and is commonly used to treat herniated discs, sciatica, degenerative disc disease, pinched nerves, and many other back conditions.
Who Needs Physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy is suitable for all ages and can benefit you at any time in your life. While it is commonly associated with musculoskeletal issues, you don’t have to be injured for physiotherapy to benefit you. Physiotherapy extends beyond that and can actually help with managing long-term medical conditions such as asthma, preparing for a sporting event or even childbirth.
Physiotherapists can help to improve various conditions:
- Neurological: stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, vestibular dysfunction, traumatic brain injuries
- Neuromusculoskeletal: back pain, arthritis, sports injuries, whiplash associated disorder, rotator cuff tears, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ)
- Cardiovascular: chronic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), post-myocardial infarction (MI), rehabilitation after a heart attack
- Respiratory: asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Pediatric conditions: developmental delays, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy
- Women’s health and pelvic floor dysfunction: urinary incontinence, lymphedema
- Nervous: carpal tunnel syndrome
- Sports-related: concussion, tennis elbow
How Does Physiotherapy Help Recovery? Aren’t You Supposed To Rest?
The human body is made to move. When we move, our muscles work, our joints bend, our heart beats faster and our breathing becomes heavier. All these help in maintaining and improving muscle strength, joint mobility, blood circulation, healing and respiratory health.
When we are not well, it’s important to rest and let the body heal. However, resting too much after the body has recovered can harm rather than help, as the repair tissue may end up becoming too stiff. This could lead to weak or imbalanced muscles, increasing the risk of re-injury and chronic pain when we return to previous activities.
For the elderly especially, their heart can weaken and they may have difficulty getting up and moving. This becomes a vicious cycle.
Physiotherapists can help you to move and exercise safely within your abilities, to make sure complications do not happen down the road.
Why Home Physiotherapy? Is it safe?
Home physiotherapy is safe. Physiotherapists are trained and will first check if your loved one is in good condition to exercise before they begin the session. One important step they take is to monitor pulse and count breathing. Once the necessary assessments are completed, they will plan exercises to suit. If your loved one is uncomfortable, they will stop the exercises.
While a physiotherapist may use specialised equipment for treatment at a hospital or clinic, most exercises can be safely done at home too. Common household items such as water bottles and chairs can be used for exercise, and many activities may not require any equipment at all.
With the option of home physiotherapy, those who find it inconvenient or challenging to head down to clinics and hospitals can now get the treatment they need in the comfort of their home, office or gym.
You can learn more about the benefits of home physiotherapy here.
Is Home Physiotherapy Expensive?
Costs vary but Homage’s home physiotherapy price is on-par with many hospitals and clinics. When looking at cost, you should also consider transport costs and the cost of taking time off work to accompany a loved one. Depending on how mobile your loved one is, travelling by taxi can add an additional $40 to $60 per visit.
How Often Should I Get Physiotherapy?
During the initial recovery phase, physiotherapy should happen at least 3-4 times a week or more.
Why so frequent? Regular movement encourages blood circulation which then speeds up recovery. It also conditions the muscles faster and makes joints more supple. This is why professional football players get physiotherapy twice daily to prevent or recover from injuries!
When you are better and can exercise on your own, you can reduce the frequency of physiotherapy. You should still have sessions so your physiotherapist can review your progress. If needed, they can help you to move to a higher level of independence.
- Blood-Smyth, J. (2015). What is Physiotherapy?. Retrieved 10 February 2020, from https://www.local-physio.co.uk/articles/general/what-is-physiotherapy/
- Clarke, J. (2018). Therapeutic Ultrasound. Retrieved 10 February 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/therapeutic-ultrasound/
- Lipsey, S. (2016). Why Does Acupuncture Work?. Retrieved 10 February 2020, from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/features/acupuncture-pain-killer#1
- Murugappan, R. (2014). No rest for rehab: Physiotherapy must begin right after an injury. Retrieved 10 February 2020, from https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/health/2014/06/08/no-rest-for-rehab
- Why Rest Isn’t Always Best After an Injury. (2017). Retrieved 16 March 2020, from http://rauschpt.net/is-rest-best/