Physiotherapy is a way of promoting recovery from injury or illness with exercises and other forms of manual therapy to restore previous function in an organ such as the lungs, or a muscle such as the gastrocnemius in the calves.
It is a science-informed therapy carried out by degree-educated professionals who take a holistic approach to rehabilitating the person’s injury or illness. This involves looking at lifestyle changes such as daily physical activity and working out how the person can take ownership of their own recovery in conjunction with massage and other manual therapies carried out by the physiotherapist and prescribed strengthening exercises. Physiotherapy also involves educating the person about prevention and living with their condition.
Manual therapy is when a physiotherapist isolates specific joints and those joints’ specific movements in order to loosen, or mobilise, them. Injury can cause these individual joint movements to become difficult and so small, repeated movements performed manually by the physiotherapist can help make them easier. Manual therapy can also improve blood flow to the area, or help fluid drainage. Manual guidance is when a physiotherapist will push back on or aid with a specific movement to mobilise or strengthen the joint or muscle in question.
Physical exercises can help someone improve their range of motion in a joint or muscle, improve their balance and coordination, or ability to perform daily tasks. These exercises can be prescribed for an elderly resident of a care home who is generally losing mobility with age (this may be in conjunction with an occupational therapist), through to an elite athlete to improve their endurance.
Physiotherapy can also be effective in preparing the body for a sporting event or childbirth – not only in the body’s recovery following the exertion. For example, regular stretches and muscle strengthening can be a way of preventing sports injuries liable to occur during periods of intense training.
Physiotherapy also has the function of helping a person live with their long-term condition when recovery isn’t possible. This is the case with conditions such as cystic fibrosis for which therapy might involve a combination of manual therapy performed on the person’s back or chest, along with breathing or coughing exercises to clear mucus from their airways.
Three alternatives to physiotherapy that a physiotherapist may also implement are hydrotherapy, acupuncture and ultrasound. Hydrotherapy is effective in treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis as it allows the person to perform joint mobility exercises with water resistance and therefore minimal stress. Acupuncture is used in treating inflammation and pain and involves the insertion of needles into the skin. Ultrasound involves the use of high-frequency sound waves to stimulate cell repair in injured tissue such as muscle.
A person does not need to go via their GP to access physiotherapy but can instead contact an independent physiotherapist themselves, like they would a private dentist. Physiotherapy may be available on the NHS for some conditions however – a GP will be able to clarify this on a case-by-case basis and inform the patient of waiting times.
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