What does a Physiotherapist do?
You have an injury and a friend or doctor has recommended you go and see a Physiotherapist, but who is a Physiotherapist and what do they do?
Physiotherapists in the UK have completed a degree- this broadly covers musculoskeletal, neurology and respiratory Physiotherapy. As part of their degree they attend clinical placements where they are mentored. On completing their degree they register with the Health Care Practitioners Council (regulatory body) and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (professional body). Physiotherapists then start work as a junior- this may or may not involve rotations across different specialties. Physiotherapists then (usually) focus on their preferred area as they gain experience and hone in their knowledge and skills.
Physiotherapists in the UK have to be able to demonstrate continued professional development to show that they are up to date with current evidence and best practice. Training never stops.
Physiotherapists often work as first contact practitioners- this means they are frequently the first person you see when you have an injury. Physiotherapists are trained to do a comprehensive assessment- this involves screening for more serious pathology. The Physiotherapist will ask questions about your injury as well as asking about general health and medications. If you have had pain for a while they will spend more time finding out about what you have done up to that point and exploring some of the other factors that can contribute to persistent pain.
The Physiotherapist will then examine you using selected tests to confirm their diagnosis. They may also look at your general movements to identify areas of weakness and dysfunction that may be relevant.
The Physiotherapist will then explain to you clearly what the injury is, how long it will take to get better and what management options are available.
The main goal of Physiotherapy is to get you back to the activities you enjoy as quickly and safely as possible- whether it be walking the dog, a weekly parkrun, or competing in your sport. We will have a look at what activities you are currently doing, what events/ activities you have planned and what your goals are for the future. Together we will then devise a management plan to help you achieve those goals.
There are many different forms of treatment- mobilization and manipulation, soft tissue release, acupuncture etc that we might use to help improve pain and movement in the short term. However the most important part of treatment is understanding the problem and knowing what you can do to help yourself. This often takes the form of an exercise program designed to expose the injured area to movement, in way that is appropriate and does not aggravate symptoms. This will help stimulate a good quality tissue repair and help improve the capacity of the injury area to tolerate load as you work towards your movement goals.
Physiotherapists work within their scope of practice. This means if they are unable to help, if they think you would be better off seeing another medical professional, if you need imaging or other diagnostic tests, or pain medication review, they will refer you accordingly.