Physiotherapy: what to expect

If you’re considering physiotherapy to treat an injury or manage pain, here’s what you need to know.

You may have an injury or be experiencing pain from arthritis or other age-related diseases when your doctor, or even a colleague or friend, recommends physiotherapy. What is physiotherapy and what can you expect?

What is physiotherapy?
According to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, physiotherapy is a client-focused health profession dedicated to:
• Improving and maintaining functional independence and physical performance
• Preventing and managing pain, physical impairments, disabilities and limits to participation; and
• Promoting fitness, health and wellness

Physiotherapy is an evidence-based discipline: rather than being rooted in a particular philosophical point of view, physiotherapists are trained in techniques that can be scientifically proven. This makes it a good match for Western-based medicine, and indeed physiotherapists are often fully integrated as a part of a team in hospitals and rehabilitation centres.

Physiotherapists provide assessment and diagnosis services, planning and implementation of interventions to address issues found in assessment and diagnosis, evaluation of success and education of clients, the public, and other health professionals.

Physiotherapy interventions include:

Strengthening and therapeutic exercise programmes: A physiotherapist can work with you to develop a tailored series of exercises to strengthen muscles around the site of an injury, to prevent further injury, or to minimize stress and pain in a particular area. As an example, a 2003 Cochrane review of 17 studies found that exercise had a positive effect on pain and self-reported physical function for those suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee. Aerobic home walking and quadriceps strengthening were also found to help with the same condition in a 2005 review.

Mobility and flexibility improvement: Physiotherapists are trained to assess the range of motion of a particular joint or area of your body. They can show you exercises designed specifically to help maintain or restore flexibility in a joint’s muscles and tendons. They can also help to evaluate your lifestyle to help you get the most of your day.

Improvements in muscle imbalances and alignment: If a muscle has diminished strength, perhaps due to an injury or repetitive motion, you may find that you have a muscle imbalance. Over time the core stabilizing muscles can become weak, and dynamic muscles try to provide stability – which both increases the risk of injury and can make some motions or tasks difficult or painful. Physiotherapists are trained to assess imbalances and to guide you through exercises or treatments to redress the balance.

Balance retraining and movement coordination: Individuals who have a loss of balance or loss of surefootedness can experience a serious reduction in quality of life, as well as being more vulnerable to falls. And those who have suffered an event like a stroke may have trouble coordinating movements. Physiotherapists can help to develop strategies and exercises to deal with these losses, incorporating both practical solutions and retraining.

Manual therapy – intervention to reduce pain and stiffness:
This aspect of physiotherapy is very “hands on” as the physiotherapist him- or herself guides the client’s body through a motion, manipulating joints and stretching muscles.