The aim of physiotherapy is to help restore movement and normal body function in cases of illness, injury and disability.

As well as treating a specific problem, your physiotherapist may also suggest ways you can improve your general wellbeing – for example, by taking regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight for your height and build. Physiotherapists take a holistic approach, looking at the body as a whole rather than focusing on the individual factors of an injury or illness.

For example, back pain can be caused by a number of different things, including:

  • poor posture
  • inherited spinal deformity
  • bending or twisting awkwardly
  • overstretching
  • standing for long periods
  • lifting or carrying objects incorrectly

A physiotherapist will look at your individual situation. As well as treating the problem, they may also suggest things you can do on a daily basis to help relieve pain and discomfort.

For example, if you have lower back pain, maintaining good posture and doing core stability exercises to strengthen stomach and lower back muscles may help.

Read more about treating back pain.

Physiotherapy approaches: Physiotherapists use a wide range of treatment techniques and approaches. Some of these are described below.

Movement and exercise: Physiotherapists use therapeutic exercises designed to strengthen the affected body area. They need to be repeated regularly, usually daily, for a set number of weeks.

As well as specific exercises, gentle activities such as walkingor swimming may be recommended if you are recovering from an operation or sports injury that affects your mobility.

For someone with a mobility problem caused by a condition such as a stroke, a physiotherapist may suggest doing exercise that targets the affected area of the body.

For example, studies have shown that circuit class therapy is an effective method of rehabilitation after a stroke. Compared with other types of exercise, it can help improve a person's ability to walk further, longer and faster, as well as help with their balance.

There is also strong evidence to show physical activity can help manage and prevent more than 20 different health conditions. For example, physically active adults have been shown to have a significantly lower risk (up to 50%) of developing major health conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.

Manual therapy techniques: Manual therapy involves using the hands to mobilise joints and soft tissues. It is suitable for most people and can be used to:

  • improve blood circulation
  • help fluid drain from parts of the body more efficiently
  • improve movement of different parts of the body
  • relieve pain and help relaxation

There is evidence to show manual therapy is beneficial in treating some types of musculoskeletal conditions, such as long-term back pain (where the pain lasts for longer than six weeks).

In appropriate cases, massage may also be used as part of your treatment programme. Evidence suggests massage can be useful for a range of health conditions, including helping to reduce some of the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of cancer treatment.

A three-year-long American study carried out in 2004 looked at the effects of massage therapy on 1,300 people with cancer. Results showed that massage therapy significantly reduced the symptoms of pain, sickness, tiredness, anxiety and depression in all participants.


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