Introduction 

Physiotherapy helps restore movement and function when someone is affected by injury, illness or disability.

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

Physiotherapists

Physiotherapists treat people of all ages, helping them manage pain and using a number of methods to aid recovery.

Although they're often thought of as just dealing with musculoskeletal problems, physiotherapists are trained healthcare professionals who work in many areas, including:

  • intensive care 
  • mental health
  • neurology (including stroke)
  • long-term conditions
  • breathing problems 
  • 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 multi-disciplinary 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 – the heart and blood circulation
  • respiratory – the organs that help you breathe, such as the windpipe (trachea), voicebox (larynx) and lungs

What physiotherapists do

Physiotherapists help people who've been affected by injury, illness or disability. Some of the approaches they use include:

  • movement and exercise – taking into account a person’s current level of health and their specific requirements
  • manual therapy techniques – where the physiotherapist helps 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 type of physiotherapy carried out in water
  • other techniques – such as heat, cold and acupuncture to help ease pain

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

Accessing physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is available through the NHS or privately. It can also sometimes be accessed through other routes, such as charities and the voluntary sector. 

In some areas, self-referral schemes allow physiotherapy to be accessed directly. To find out whether self-referral is available in your area, speak to the reception staff at your GP surgery or ask at your local NHS hospital

Read more about accessing physiotherapy.




Back stretches

Back pain is a very common condition, affecting about 80% of people at some point in their lives. A physiotherapist demonstrates some simple back stretches to help prevent aches and pains.

Media last reviewed: 08/08/2013

Next review due: 08/08/2015

Self-help

If you have a health problem such as back pain, you can help ease the pain and prevent it re-occurring by:

Read more about self-helpback pain at work and how to sit correctly.

Page last reviewed: 29/04/2014

Next review due: 29/04/2016