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Also known as physical therapy or PT, physiotherapy is a kind of therapy that helps in the treatment of injuries, and recovering from surgery, illness, physical conditions (including some types of disability) and chronic problems.

Physiotherapy uses exercises, movement and manual therapy to either restore function or strengthen and enhance movement in the body. Physiotherapy may be used with or without medicines or drugs.

Despite the fact that it has a proven track record for helping people who are suffering from prolonged pain, injuries or ailments that limit one's ability to move freely, physiotherapy is not used as widely as it should be in India.

Indeed, physiotherapy may be used by athletes at the top of their game as well as people recovering from heart bypass surgery and almost anybody in-between for long-term relief from musculoskeletal problems, pain and limitations to movement as per their abililty.

Modern lifestyle involves people using poor posture for prolonged periods of time, hunched over screens or books, sitting awkwardly for hours in front of the television or at the desk, which leads to long-term pain and difficulties.

Methods used in physiotherapy can help not only identify the mistakes you may have been making for a long time, but they can also reduce pain and discomfort by improving the mobility in the body.

You may have seen patients in hospital after undergoing long treatments being advised to visit a physiotherapist. This is also one of the aspects of the rehabilitation before or after surgeries, or to help you regain your strength after treatment of a prolonged illness.

  1. Treatments in physiotherapy
  2. Physiotherapy methods
  3. Benefits of physiotherapy
  4. Takeaways

A physiotherapist or physical therapist is a licensed practitioner who uses not only their hands and the application of their own strength but also exercises, massage and other treatments like manipulation for therapy.

Physiotherapy has long been used to treat muscle or bone (musculoskeletal)  injuries. For this reason, all professional sports teams have a physiotherapist during various sporting events. However, the application of physical therapy has increased—it can treat a multitude of problems to help one lead an unrestricted, pain-free life.

Read more: Workout injuries

The physiotherapist recommends a series of treatment plans based on the patient's condition and desired result such as helping a person walk again, stand up straight, getting used to walking with crutches or correcting their overall posture. Children with learning disabilities are also often recommended to undergo physical therapy, as are people who suffer from various types of injuries or surgery.

Here are some of the areas that can benefit from physiotherapy:

  • Bones, joints, muscles and tissues: Any chronic pain or sudden injury affecting these areas of the body, such as sports injuries, are commonly treated with the help of physiotherapy. Even in the case of bone fractures, physiotherapy is involved once the broken bone has healed, to restore function and strength.
  • Conditions involving the nervous system or the brain: Episodes such as a stroke or conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or degenerative problems like Parkinson's disease that cause problems in the movement are also managed via physiotherapy.
  • Lungs and heart: Conditions involving the respiratory or the circulatory system are also managed through physiotherapy, as it helps in restoring function in both the organs after episodes such as heart attacks or in chronic conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Physical therapy involves using methods such as:

  • Movement and exercise: Often, the goal of treatment is to restore a patient's full range of movement. The first step towards this is to assess the patient's ability to move, flexibility in their joints, strength in their muscles, their coordination, balance and posture, etc. Movement and exercises are then recommended to the patient, to reduce pain and discomfort, strengthen the muscles and improve the body's innate balance, to restore mobility in the body.

Read more: Home remedies for muscle pain

  • Manual therapy: Manual therapy is the practice of manipulating the tissues, muscles and joints in the body to restore their function. Every joint in the body goes through some amount of stress during movements. Sometimes, this stress can lead to injuries (from stress fractures to ligament tears), muscle pain and so on. A physiotherapist can apply pressure from their hands on the affected joints, tissues or muscles, which helps to free up the affected area and makes movements easier. While manipulation is more common among chiropractors, physical therapists use a more gentle method known as mobilisation techniques. A patient can always ask the therapist to stop if the treatment is causing pain.
  • Hydrotherapy: Hydrotherapy has been a popular rehabilitative practice in the treatment of several neurological, orthopaedic or rheumatological problems. A series of movements and exercises is performed in a shallow pool of slightly warm water, allowing the patient to move the affected parts of their body under the natural resistance provided by the water. These moves are easier to perform inside water as gravity exert less force here, thus allowing the affected joints and muscles to move more freely. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis are known to undergo hydrotherapy as it prevents additional pain.
  • Geriatric physiotherapy: Geriatric physiotherapy involves rehabilitation and therapy or exercises for the elderly. Old age brings with it several challenges, especially with respect to a limited range of movement and reduced strength, and this branch of physiotherapy helps in maintaining or restoring function in the joints and muscles, which also helps in maintaining cognitive functions.

Read more: How to reduce the risk of an older person falling

  • Neurological physiotherapy: This branch of physiotherapy involves treatments of disorders in the nervous system such as stroke, spinal cord injury, brain trauma, etc. This treatment is also useful after undergoing brain surgery for various conditions.
  • Cardiothoracic physiotherapy: Patients suffering from heart or lung-related ailments such as respiratory disorders, COPD, bronchitis and asthma, etc., are recommended to undergo cardiothoracic rehabilitation which involves several breathing exercises that can help expand the lungs.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture is sometimes used in physiotherapy for reducing pain and inflammation. This technique, practised in China for centuries, uses sterilised needles of different sizes to prick the skin at different points, which—it is said—allows the body's healing mechanism to kick in and help in recovery and restoring function.

In addition to medical treatments that involve the use of drugs, surgeries and other procedures, physical therapy is important to help one improve their physical movement and ability. Here are some of the benefits of physiotherapy:

  • Pain relief: As one grows older, various aches and pains become a part of everyday life. Long hours in the office resulting in back pain, a twisted ankle or frozen shoulder or any other chronic muscle or joint pain that may have become a constant companion can be treated effectively through physiotherapy. It can help ease the pain and also restore function in the affected part of the body, reducing your dependence on painkillers which have several side effects.
  • Reduced dependency on medication: As explained above, physiotherapy is a non-clinical approach to various conditions affecting the body. Good quality physiotherapy can help you stay off drugs and other medications as they can have an impact on the kidneys and liver in the long run.
  • Improves strength and flexibility: Whether you suffer an injury, undergo surgery or have any other condition that limits your movement, physiotherapy can help strengthen the parts of the body weakened by the incidents. 
  • Helps avoid surgery: Surgeries, no matter how safe in modern times, put immense pressure on the body as it takes a long time to recuperate and recover from them. Physiotherapy helps in strengthening affected parts of the body through sustained exercise and movements, improving the body's mobility with time.
  • Helps you stay active: Whether it is a senior citizen, someone affected by a chronic condition or someone who has undergone surgery, a combination of exercises, movements and physical treatment can help in restoring, enhancing or maintaining movement in different parts of the body.
  • Prevents injury: Physical therapy also helps in strengthening weaker muscles, joints or tissues that are more susceptible to injuries, thereby helping to avoid long-term absence from your favourite sport or activity.

Physiotherapy is a popular method of treating various types of medical conditions in order to allow a person to live a pain-free life, helping in restoring or maintaining the function of a particular part of the body affected by a health condition. People of all age groups are suited to undergo physical therapy and it is widely encouraged as its practice helps you in limiting your dependence on powerful medicines and drugs, which may have adverse effects in the long run.

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References

  1. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Overview: Physiotherapy
  2. Versus Arthritis [Internet] Chesterfield, UK. Physiotherapy
  3. Health direct [internet]. Department of Health: Australian government; Physiotherapy.
  4. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. [Internet] London, UK. What is physiotherapy?
  5. The Indian Association of Physiotherapists. [Internet] Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. Neuro Physiotherapy Moving Towards Freedom.
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