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Physiotherapy - Introduction

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Physiotherapy is a type of therapy that can help ill, injured or disabled people recover




to their

full potential.

Physiotherapy takes a holistic approach that involves the patient directly in their own care.


Physiotherapists are trained healthcare professionals. They work in specialist areas that include:

  • intensive care 
  • mental health
  • neurology (including stroke)
  • long-term conditions
  • men's and women's health (including incontinence)
  • recovery after major surgery
  • orthopaedics and trauma
  • sports
  • workplace health
  • paediatrics (children)
  • care of the elderly
  • education and health promotion

Many physiotherapists work as part of a multidisciplinary team. They can work from NHS hospitals, community-based organisations, private hospitals and clinics, sports clubs, charities and workplaces.

Physiotherapists help treat physical problems linked to a number of the body's systems, including:

  • musculoskeletal  - bones, joints and soft tissues
  • neuromuscular - the brain and nervous system
  • cardiovascular  - heart and blood circulation
  • respiratory - the organs that help you breathe, such as the windpipe (trachea), voicebox (larynx) and lungs

What do physiotherapists do?

Examples of approaches used in physiotherapy include:

  • movement and exercise -taking into account a person's current level of health and their specific requirements
  • manual therapy techniques - where the physiotherapist aids recovery by using their hands to relieve muscle pain and stiffness, and encourage blood flow to an injured part of the body
  • aquatic therapy - a form of physiotherapy carried out in water
  • other techniques - such as heat, cold and acupuncture to ease pain

Read more about some of the different techniques that are used in physiotherapy.

How do I get physiotherapy?

You can access physiotherapy through the NHS or private practitioners. It is also sometimes possible to access physiotherapy treatment through other routes, such as charities and the voluntary sector. 

In some areas, 'self-referral' systems are in place that allow you to access physiotherapy directly. To find out whether self-referral is available in your area contact the reception staff at your GP surgery, or ask at your local NHS hospital. 

Read more about accessing physiotherapy.

Medical Review: February 27, 2012
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