What is a Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is a health care professional who helps patients achieve maximum range of movement and physical ability, either by developing it in the first place or restoring it after loss of physical ability due to illness, injury, or aging. Physiotherapists are usually called physical therapists in the United States, but the term physiotherapist is favoured in the rest of the English-speaking world.

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What does a Physiotherapist do?

When taking on a new patient, a physiotherapist will take his/her health history and perform a physical examination. He will then develop a treatment plan tailored to the patient's needs. Some of the treatments that physiotherapists use are as follows:

  • Massage to ease soft tissue pain
  • Mobilization or manipulation of joints
  • Exercises to strengthen weak areas
  • Cold to reduce inflammation
  • Heat to increase circulation
  • Ultrasound therapy to ease muscle spasms
  • Electrical stimulation to help muscles contract that cannot do so effectively on their own

Physiotherapists do not just work with people after an injury, but can be found working in many fields of specialty.

Cardiopulmonary Physiotherapists - help their patients gain endurance in the face of cardiac (heart) or pulmonary (lung) illnesses or after surgery. Sometimes, especially for heart attack patients, the therapist will give advice on health and nutrition. They may also use manual therapies to help clear the lungs in patients with certain lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.

Clinical Electrophysiotherapists - use electrical stimulation and other tactics to promote healing in stubborn wounds such as burns, sores on diabetics, or post-amputation wounds.

Geriatric Physiotherapists - are prepared to deal with the special needs of the elderly and help them continue to maintain as active a lifestyle as possible.

Neurological Physiotherapists - specialize in patients that could have any one of many neurological illnesses or injuries. This includes Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), Stroke, or injury to the brain or spinal cord. These patients need help with things like coordination, balance, ambulation, muscle strength, or daily living skills.

Orthopaedic Physiotherapists - are probably what most people think of when they think of physiotherapy. They treat problems with the musculoskeletal system, most often after an injury or orthopaedic surgery. Common therapies include massage, joint manipulation, exercises, heat or cold application, and electrical stimulation.

Pediatric Physiotherapists - are specially trained to meet the needs of children. They treat children with developmental delays, congenital problems, injuries, or illness.

Sport Physiotherapists - specialize in working with athletes and their unique needs. The sports therapist helps athletes function at their peak, aids in preventing injuries, and helps athletes return to maximum performance after an injury. Major sports teams usually employ their own physiotherapists.

Women's Health Physiotherapists - specialize in women's health. This specialty helps women recover from such issues as incontinence (usually resulting from pregnancy and childbirth), pelvic pain, or sexual dysfunction that is due to a physical problem.

The above eight specialties are board-certifiable by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties; however physical therapists certainly are not limited to those eight areas. A physiotherapist may choose to focus on a particular passion or interest and build his or her practice from that point.

For example, a therapist with a passion for horseback riding may choose to pursue education in sports therapy, and then focus her efforts on gaining clients who are also equestrians. The therapist will be able to use her own knowledge and expertise in the field to help her clients in a way that a therapist who doesn't ride might not be able to do.

There are even some physiotherapists who focus on helping musicians, who may develop repetitive use injuries from practicing several hours per day. Any orthopaedic physiotherapist could give the musician exercises and provide treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, but only one who is also a trained musician could properly advise the client how to modify his playing to avoid further injury. This is just one more example of how a physiotherapist can use his or her areas of expertise and meld that with a career in physiotherapy.

What does it take to be a Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist must first have a desire to help people and possess good communication skills. He/she must also have an interest in and aptitude for the medical field and in health and nutrition.

Educational requirements for this career vary greatly from country to country, but in the United States, Canada, and Europe, most physiotherapists achieve post-graduate education. In the United States, they must go through clinical rotations before graduating from a doctoral program.

What is the workplace of a Physiotherapist like?

Physiotherapists have a wide variety of employment opportunities. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, private practices, or with a sports team. They may also work for the government, in research, or they may even teach at physical therapy schools.

How much does a Physiotherapist earn?

In the United States, physical therapists can expect to earn $30,000-$70,000 with a few years of experience. As they gain clients and experience, they earn even more. In the United Kingdom, they start at about £19,600 to £25,500. With a good amount of experience, they can earn in excess of £40,000.

Learn more about being a Physiotherapist