Physiotherapy has been defined as ‘a health care profession concerned with human function and movement and maximising potential’. But what does this actually mean? Well, in the context of musculoskeletal physiotherapy – the complicated name for physiotherapy that looks after joints, muscles, nerves and the spine – it involves looking at the way an individual moves, as a whole and at specific joints, in combination with tests of balance, muscular strength and flexibility, to form a working theory of why a person has pain or is unable to perform particular tasks.
A skilled therapist will then explain the problem in simple terms, and agree with you a plan designed to return you to health.
Are you just going to give me exercises?
No. Although the evidence tells us exercising and taking responsibility for your problem are key factors in recovery, there is still an important role to be played by physical or ‘hands-on’ techniques such as joint mobilisation and soft tissue massage.
In a nutshell, physiotherapists can treat pain, stiffness, weakness and balance problems. The tools we have at our disposal are education, joint mobilisation, massage and exercises. Each person will require a different combination of these tools, which change as you recover. For example, in the early stages of back pain, treatment may focus around symptom relief with treatments such as mobilization and massage in addition to manageable movement (exercise). As pain settles and normal activity resumes, therapy naturally moves towards a more exercise based rehabilitation to help prevent re-occurrence.
What is the difference between physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractic?
The main difference is how your therapist understands the problem and how they choose to explain their findings and justify treatment to you. For example, an osteopathic examination might find spinal misalignment is a contributing factor for an episode of back pain and recommend a spinal manipulation as part of treatment. A chiropractor might discover something similar, but also include an x-ray which shows a difference in leg lengths, and in addition prescribe a heel raise on the shortened side. A physiotherapist may discover very similar findings but reason that spinal asymmetry and differences in leg lengths are so common as to be irrelevant in this case. They might also choose to treat the spine and surrounding area knowing this can have dramatic pain-relieving effects, but decide this episode was brought about due to a particularly strenuous gym session at a busy time in the client’s life when their ability to cope and recover from physical stresses was reduced.
Who is right? The honest answer is the clinician that offers you an explanation that matches your own understanding and beliefs and offers a treatment approach which feels right on all levels. Physiotherapy is not for everyone and neither is osteopathy or chiropractic. Good physiotherapy will always offer you an evidence-based understanding of your problem and approach to treatment based on the latest scientific research.
This is the approach that our physiotherapists follow as well and we can assure you that their years of experience and wealth of knowledge will give you the best road to recovery.