What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy or physiotherapy (UK/Ireland/Australia) is a branch of rehabilitative medicine aimed at helping patients maintain, recover or improve their physical abilities.
Physical therapists or physiotherapists (UK/Ireland/Australia) work with patients whose movements may be undermined by aging, disease, environmental factors, or sporting hazards.
According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary, physical therapy is:
1. The treatment of pain, disease, or injury by physical means.
2. The profession concerned with promotion of health, with prevention of physical disabilities, with evaluation and rehabilitation of persons disabled by pain, disease, or injury, and with treatment by physical therapeutic measures as opposed to medical, surgical, or radiologic measures.
A physical therapist seeks to identify and maximize quality of life and movement potential through prevention, intervention (treatment), promotion, habilitation, and rehabilitation.
Habilitation means making somebody fit or capable of doing something.
Rehabilitation means making somebody fit or capable of doing something they can no longer do properly or at all, but used to be able to – i.e. restoring an ability or abilities.
Promotion means the process of enabling people to increase control over and improve their health.
Physical therapy is a clinical health science
Physical therapy is not alternative therapy. It is a clinical health science. Physical therapists study medical science subjects, including anatomy, neuroscience and physiology in order to acquire the health education needed for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, etc., of patients with physical problems.
The physical therapist works in hospitals, GP (general practice, primary care medicine) practices, and the community. In the vast majority of countries a physical therapist must be fully qualified and registered by law. In order to become registered the physical therapist must have graduated with a university degree in physical therapy or a health science university degree that included a physical therapy course.
A qualified physical therapist is an expert in the examination and treatment of people with cardiothoracic, musculoskeletal and neuromuscular diseases; focusing on conditions and problems that undermine patients’ abilities to move and function effectively.
Physical therapy is based on science
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK:
“Physiotherapy is science-based, committed to extending, applying, evaluating and reviewing the evidence that underpins and informs its practice and delivery. The exercise of clinical judgment and informed interpretation is at its core.”
What does a physical therapist do?
According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK, physical therapists use their training and skills to treat a wide range of physical problems linked to different systems in the body, including:
Neuromuscular systems – concerned with both nerves and muscles. Nerves include the brain, spine and nerves throughout the body. Neuromuscular refers to neuromuscular junction – where nerves and muscle fibers meet, and also includes neuromuscular transmission – the transfer of information, impulses, from the nerve to the muscle.
Musculoskeletal systems – an organ system that gives us the ability to move using our muscles and bones (muscular and skeletal systems). The musculoskeletal system gives us form, movement and stability. The musculoskeletal system includes our bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissue.
Cardiovascular systems – include the heart and the circulatory systems. The circulatory system carries nutrients and oxygen via blood vessels to the tissues of the body and removes waste and carbon dioxide from them.
Respiratory systems – include organs that are involved in breathing, such as the lungs, bronchi, trachea, larynx, throat, and nose.
In many countries doctors increasingly refer their patients to physical therapists, which is resulting in more and more patients going straight to the physical therapist without having first seen a doctor.