PHYSIOTHERAPY: The Art of Caring

Physiotherapy enhances the quality of life by using clinical diagnosis and reasoning to deliver the apt treatment for an injury or condition

PhysiotherapyAll over the world, excessive workplace stress, and long hours of computer-related activities results in lower fitness levels. There is an overwhelming need for a personalised approach to health and fitness, keeping in mind the patient's individual needs. With its emphasis on therapeutic exercise and functional training, physiotherapy makes a difference in the lives of people.

Physiotherapy is recommended for children with congenital problems, teenagers with postural deficiencies, sport injuries in children and adults and those in their twilight years who experience joint pains and other degenerative conditions. "The science of healing and the art of caring," is how the American Association of Physical Therapists [APTA] describes physiotherapy. For people who suffer from some disability or chronic illness, it is the key to restoring physical function to a level that will permit them to live a near normal life.

How it helps

When a person seeks the services of a physiotherapist, the therapist will make a complete assessment of the health condition, including history, pain and movement patterns, strength and reflexes of joints, sensation and cardio-respiratory status. Based on this data, he/she establishes a diagnosis and prepares a treatment programme. The treatment may also include breathing and physical exercises and stretches, electrotherapy, mobilisation, acupuncture, ergonomic assessment and advice, ultrasound imaging analysis and rehabilitation with EMG biofeedback, depending on the condition of the patient.

Musculosketal [Orthopaedic] physiotherapy deals with muscles, bones and joints. Patients include those with neck pain and headaches, low back pain, sciatica, arthritis and knee pain, sports-related injuries or post-surgical rehabilitation. In this, the line of treatment that may be followed by the physiotherapist would most likely include massage, joint mobilisation, manipulation, stretches, electrotherapy [ultrasound, interferential, shortwave, microwave, laser], heat and cold, correction of posture and lifting techniques, and hydrotherapy.

Cardiothoracic physiotherapy deals with the function of the heart and respiratory system. Patients with chronic respiratory disorders like emphysema, asthma, bronchitis, as also patients who have undergone any type of cardiac or thoracic surgery and patients in the ICU come under the care of a cardiothoracic physiotherapist. Apart from exercise programmes, breathing techniques either to reduce shortness of breath or increase lung expansion, oxygen therapy, use of mechanical ventilators, sputum clearance with vibrations, coughing, deep breathing and suction and mobilising are used for treatment.

Neurological physiotherapy deals with nervous system disorders. The physiotherapist who has specialised in neurology is involved in the assessment and treatment of patients suffering from conditions like acquired brain injuries/head injuries, strokes, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, balance disorders or spinal cord injuries.

Who will benefit?

Women of all ages, right from adolescence when they sometimes suffer from severe menstrual pain and cramps, to pregnancy and childbirth, and later menopausal discomfort, will benefit from physiotherapy. Simple breathing and exercise techniques help the adolescent to control the pain. Prenatal exercises take into account the safety of the foetus, and include low-impact aerobics, muscle strengthening and relaxation exercises. After childbirth, you are put back on track with postnatal exercises. After evaluating you for postural problems or abdominal weakness, a programme is designed to gradually strengthen your muscles. The programme may include pelvic floor exercises to prevent incontinence [difficulty in bladder control]. Women who have undergone hysterectomy or mastectomy are put on specific exercise programmes with emphasis on complete recovery.

Athletes and sportspersons require a complete fitness programme as they are prone to injury. While recovering from an injury, specific physiotherapy treatment is given for recovery and strengthening of the injured bone or muscle.

Aging brings along a host of ailments including osteoporosis [bones that were once strong, become fragile due to depletion of calcium], osteoarthritis [an inflammation of the joints due to aging, wear and tear, or injury], and urinary incontinence. Physiotherapy helps in the treatment of incontinence as it strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which may prevent the onset of incontinence or help to reverse the process. A physiotherapist can help reduce pain, prevent fractures, and help strengthen your bones through a programme of exercise designed to improve your posture and enhance sense of balance.

In war affected zones, the role of the physiotherapist is extremely important. Injuries on the battlefield, may sometimes call for amputation. In most cases, where the amputation is done on the leg, the amputee will be learning to balance all over again. Whether the amputation is done on the hand or the leg, overcoming phantom pains [pains where the limb used to be] or gradually getting the patient accustomed to using a prosthetic limb, requires the patient to have the benefit of an individualistic approach to the rehabilitation plan, that only a physiotherapist will be able to give him.

Physiotherapy could be called a health profession which deals with enhancing the quality of life by using clinical diagnosis and reasoning to deliver the apt treatment for an injury or condition. However, it would be wise to remember that the progress in the recovery would be possible only with the active involvement of the patient. If the patient has the will power and the determination to improve, the physiotherapist can work wonders to increase his independence, making him fit and free to actively function at home or at the workplace.

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Lalitha Balasubramanian
Lalitha Balasubramanian is a Mumbai-based freelance writer. Her areas of interest include health, travel, food, and environmental issues.
Geeta Viswanathan, a practising physiotherapist, has worked at KEM and LTMG Hospitals, Mumbai, Apollo Hospital, Chennai, and Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah, UAE. A certified occupational health and safety therapist from the University of Alberta, Viswanathan is currently based in Canada, pursuing her interests in alternative medicine, integrating diet, home remedies, and energy healing methods.

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