Physiotherapy was first established in 460 BC and was practiced by the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. Physiotherapy is a combination of manual therapy, exercises and advice designed to treat a large range of musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses.
Physiotherapists use several methods of treatment including massage, stretches, exercises, ultrasound and manual manipulation of your joints to relive pain and improve physical mobility. A physiotherapist will use one or a combination of these methods to treat you over several sessions after your initial assessment has been completed. Common conditions that can be improved with physiotherapy include sciatica, arthritis, post-operative rehabilitation, osteoporosis and many more.
If you’ve never experienced a physiotherapy session before and want to know more about this treatment and how it can help you, we have put together the below guide to let you know what to expect from your first physiotherapy appointment and subsequent treatment plan.
The Initial Assessment
During an initial session, your physiotherapist will seek to gain a good understanding of the source of your discomfort and will start by providing a full examination. It is a good idea to bring any relevant documentation with you as you will likely be asked a few questions on your medical history and general health at the start of a consultation.
Patients should wear loose, comfy clothing that will not restrict movement, and your physio may ask you to perform a few movements or exercises so they can correctly assess your level of mobility. You may also be asked to walk a short distance so your physician can assess if your condition is affecting your gait. Clinical testing such as reflex and nerve testing may also be carried out depending on your condition. If the area of your body causing you pain is covered by clothing, you may be asked to remove it so the physiotherapist can gain a better understanding of your problem. Clothing such as cotton shorts, leggings and t-shirts are advisable to be worn.
After observation, your physiotherapist will likely outline a proposed treatment plan for you. The number of sessions needed is determined by the individual, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment. A single session usually lasts 30 minutes but may last longer if the practitioner deems it appropriate.
Types of Treatment
After your initial assessment, your therapy will begin. There are several methods of treatment commonly used in physiotherapy.
Massage treatments involve manual manipulation of the body’s soft tissue including muscles, tendons and ligaments. Massage can be effective at relieving tension and muscle stiffness and is proven to speed up recovery for sporting injuries. Massage therapy can also be effective in reducing fluid retention (oedema) in the body tissue that can build up after an injury or operation such as a knee replacement.
Exercises and stretches that are designed to increase strength and mobility are also practiced during physiotherapy. When we experience pain, our first reaction is often to keep the area still and move it as little as possible. However, this can lead to stiffness and weakened muscles which can then cause further problems. Your physiotherapist will be able to demonstrate what exercises are most effective to get you back to top condition. Physiotherapy exercises are also effective in the treatment of muscular dystrophy, a progressive weakening of the muscles, and can effectively slow the digression of muscle strength.
Electrotherapy or therapeutic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to increase blood flow to an inflamed area of the body. The most common conditions that respond well to therapeutic ultrasound are soft tissue injuries and swelling around a joint. Ultrasound treatment also aids the body in breaking down dense scar tissue that has built up around the site of injury.
Heat Therapy or thermotherapy uses a warm compress such as a hot flannel, heating pad or heated wrap as a method of pain relief. Applying heat directly to a problem area of the body can increase pliability of the muscles and prevent spasms from occurring.
Physiotherapy Follow Up
After your sessions have ended, your therapist may give you a sheet of easy to follow physiotherapy exercises you can practice at home. For example, good lower back exercises include various stretches and lunges in standing, sitting and lying down positions. Exercises for neck injuries include neck rotation and head tilting.
If your injury is caused or aggravated by lifestyle factors such as frequent heavy lifting or maintaining a bad posture while sitting at your desk, your physiotherapist should provide you with useful tips to improve this and prevent injury re-occurrence.