A physiotherapist specialises in the field of physiotherapy. Physiotherapy, or physical therapy (PT), is a category of physical medicine and rehabilitation that concentrates on the science of movement. The focus is on aiding patients to restore, maintain and optimise their physical strength, functional capability and mobility by treatment of their physical problems.
Becoming a physiotherapist in the United Kingdom (UK)
To start practising as a physiotherapist in the United Kingdom (UK), one first needs to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Registering with the HCPC requires completion of an approved degree (BSc.) in physiotherapy, for which courses are available throughout the UK. Completion of a full-time degree takes three years whereas that of a part-time one takes around four to six years. For those who have already completed their BSc. in a relevant subject, there are two-year accelerated MSc. courses available.
All courses involve practical training with patients.
Training with a registered physiotherapist for some time helps in giving a good idea of the nature of work.
After being registered as a practitioner, one will have to maintain their name on the register by staying abreast on relevant knowledge and skills and paying an annual retention fee.
Conditions physiotherapists treat
Since physiotherapy, in general, is a broad field, physiotherapists specialise in certain specific areas of physiotherapy and treat specific conditions. For this, they undergo specialised training.
The specific conditions and specific areas of treatment are as follows:
1.Cardiovascular and pulmonary physiotherapy – Physiotherapists specialising in this field are involved in the rehabilitation and improvement of functional independence of patients affected by heart and lung diseases. For example heart attacks, post coronary bypass surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease etc.
2.Clinical electrophysiology – In this field, physiotherapists specialise in electrotherapy, physical agents, electrophysiological evaluation (EMG/NCV) etc.
3.Care of the elderly – This field is concerned with the problems of older people like arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, incontinence etc.
4.Integumentary – Physiotherapists who conduct integumentary physical therapy are concerned with the treatment of conditions related to the skin and allied organs. For example wounds and burns.
5.Neurological – Physiotherapists practising neurological physiotherapy treat patients who have a severe brain or spinal cord damage or neurological diseases. For example stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease etc.
6.Orthopaedic – Orthopaedic physiotherapists treat conditions related to the musculoskeletal system. For example: rehabilitating patients after orthopaedic surgery, sprains, fractures, injuries like bursitis, deformities like scoliosis etc. The various interventions are dry needling, therapeutic exercise, hot/cold packs, electrical muscle stimulation etc.
7.Paediatric – Paediatric physiotherapists are specialised in diagnosis, treatment and management of congenital, developmental, neuromuscular and acquired disorders of infants, children and adolescents.
8.Palliative – Physiotherapists in the field of oncology and palliative care specialise in the treatment of malignant and non-malignant diseases. The aim is to aid patients to live longer and improve the quality and functionality of their life irrespective of their life expectancy.
Techniques used by physiotherapists
Physiotherapists use a variety of techniques depending on the type of injury and its symptoms. The various techniques used are as follows:
1.Exercise – Physiotherapy almost involves exercise of some kind. There are different exercise programs depending on the problem like stretching, daily exercises, aerobics, lifting weights etc.
2.Manual Therapy – Also known as bodywork, this refers to treatment done with the hands. It includes:
- Mobilisation – This is used for putting dislocated bones in position through measured hand movements. For example joint mobilisation.
- Manipulation – In this case, pressure is applied to a joint using hands or a special device. For example physiotherapy instrument mobilisation (PIM), minimal energy techniques (METs) etc.
- Massage – Here pressure is applied to the soft tissues of the body like muscles which help them relax and relieve pain.
3.Specialised treatment – Physiotherapists are specialised in several treatments like:
- Vestibular rehabilitation – Helping one’s inner ear to respond to changes in body position. This is useful in treating vertigo.
- Wound care – This involves taking care of unhealed wounds through cleaning, bandaging, oxygen treatment or electrical stimulation.
- Pelvic health – This involves exercises to treat urinary incontinence and reduce pelvic pain.
- Oncology – Treatment of cancer
- Decongestive lymphatic drainage – A special type of message to reduce inflammation caused due to improper functioning of the lymphatic system.
4.Other treatments- Other treatments include:
- Cold and ice – To reduce pain and inflammation
- Heat – To relax and heal muscle and tissues by increasing blood circulation
- Ultrasound therapy – A technique that uses high-pitched sound waves to relax muscles and relieve pain and swelling
- Electrical stimulation – A technique used to contract muscles by passing electric current.
- Hydrotherapy – The most common form of water therapy is water exercise.
- Acupuncture and dry needling – This technique involves piercing needles into trigger points of a muscle without injecting anything
5.Education – Apart from direct treatment, physiotherapists also educate patients on how to perform daily activities, avoid recurrence of injuries, use of accessories like crutches and wheelchairs, do home exercises etc.