Physiotherapy 

Introduction 

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: 18/09/2011

Next review due: 19/09/2013

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 self-help advice.

Physiotherapy is a type of therapy that can help ill, injured or disabled people recover movement and function to their full potential.

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

Physiotherapists

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.

Page last reviewed: 14/05/2012

Next review due: 14/05/2014

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Comments

The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Onelittleredindian said on 02 March 2013

I agree with the earlier comment by Darren BH 11/12/2012.
When is this bias in information going to cease.
If you are going to imply that physiotherapy has a greater evidence base than Osteopathy and Chiropractic then please quote your sources.
The General Osteopathic Council for example have been asking for some time now that there be a level playing field established on this issue.
Is it that the NHS wish to promote physiotherapy above other evidence based treatment simply because they are funding it and the truth would be embarrassing?
NHS Choices is a highly influential source of information for the general public and this article alongside that covering Osteopathy and Chiropractic is highly misleading.
Come on NHS Choices. Put your house in order.

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Musto said on 20 August 2012

The physiotherapy topic was reviewed in February 2012 taking the comments below into consideration.

The topic has been expanded to give a more in-depth and balanced view of physiotherapy and its various approaches and techniques. It also incorporates the recently updated guidelines that were published by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP).

The 'how it works' section has been reviewed and updated to include evidence that movement and exercise can be effective in treating mobility problems that are caused by a stroke.

The section also reports that there is evidence to show that manual therapy can be effective in treating certain musculoskeletal conditions, such as long-term back pain (back pain that lasts longer than six weeks).

Editorial team, NHS Choices

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coopsy88 said on 24 February 2012

http://www.bmj.com/content/329/7468/708.short

Interesting

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Darren BH said on 11 December 2011

There appears to be some bias in the way different treatments for back pain have been reported on this site:

Under physiotherapy there is no mention of evidence for the range of conditions listed and benefit is implied for the list of conditions/complaints that they see people for.

Conversely Acupuncture and Osteopathy have a brief list of conditions that their is positive evidence for, I have just searched on the clinical trials section of this site under physiotherapy for Back pain, sciatica, headache, tendonitis, arthritis and rotator cuff tear and no articles/evidence was found for any of these conditions?

Also why not include Chiropractic, the Bronfort report the effectiveness of Manual Therapies in the UK found positive evidences for:
Low back pain, acute and chronic
Sciatica
Neck Pain acute and chronic
Headaches – Migraine & Cervicogenic (from the neck)
Shoulder blade pain
Frozen Shoulder
Tennis Elbow
Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis
Patella (knee cap) pain
Plantar fasciitis

The Advertising Standards agency also allows Chiropractors to claim effectiveness in treating these conditions, please show the same level of positive evidence when reporting the benefits of Physiotherapy.

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coopsy88 said on 26 November 2011

Why is there no discussion of the evidence behind methods used by physiotherapists?

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Jamesowers said on 27 March 2010

Where can I find my nearest Physio? How can I book to see one?

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Back pain guide

Back pain guide

Explore this guide for information about different types of back pain, ways of preventing it and advice on treatment