If you’ve never given it a try, perhaps you primarily associate physiotherapy with sports injuries – the rigorous programme of techniques used to help restore athletes to peak performance. This is definitely a very important application of the practice; as anyone who’s hurt themselves on the sports field will likely agree. However, physiotherapy actually has plenty of other applications – even to people who can’t tell the difference between a tennis ball and a boxing glove. Whether you’re regularly active or not, I hope that the following article can show you that the wide variety of methods physiotherapy utilises have the potential enhance your overall wellbeing in a number of ways.
Whilst it’s been around, in some shape or form, since the Ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen first noted the benefits of massage, hydrotherapy and manual therapy techniques, physiotherapy as we know it has existed since early-1800s Sweden, where the world’s first professional training centre for physical therapists was founded. The technique gained a great deal of popularity towards the beginning of the 20th Century. Significant events such as the First World War increased its demand (unsurprisingly, many soldiers required it once all those bombs and bullets finally stopped flying around), not to mention the 1916 New York City polio epidemic – and by the time a vaccine for the disease was found in 1950 professional physiotherapists were a common feature of most American and European hospitals.
So what exactly are its benefits? The body can be physically affected by all manner of ailments, whether it’s a torn ligament or a neurological condition. Physiotherapy has proven potential to assist recovery from and maintenance of a wide variety of such symptoms. Perhaps its most common application is in aiding muscle and joint pain and function. Many of us have been there – a twisted ankle or back problems can be highly-debilitating in the day-to-day, especially if one’s lifestyle or career involve a lot of physical activity. Often, the recommendation is to rest and avoid using the afflicted muscle or joint too much, and whilst this is definitely good advice it’s also clear that physiotherapeutic techniques such as joint and soft tissue mobilisation, ultrasound, taping and electrical stimulation can do a lot to speed up recovery and ease the pain that the injury may be causing. In addition, such practices are proven to decrease the likelihood of the issue reoccurring.
This doesn’t simply apply to minor injuries, either; even more severe ones - those requiring surgery to fix, for example - can be eased and sometimes vanquished through a regimen of physiotherapy. Whilst you might get a kick from pointing at surgical scars and telling strangers that “a tiger did this”, I’d assume you’d probably rather avoid a trip to the operating room if possible. Obviously a soft-tissue massage won’t stop your appendix from exploding; it’s not a fix-all. But the next time you find yourself with muscle or joint pains, why not consider actively-combating the issue rather than waiting for it to recover on its own? Even incorporating some manual techniques or exercises into your lifestyle before a problem even presents itself might prevent one from arising at all.
You’ll also find your general wellbeing – separate from injuries and the like – improving too. Those who have issues standing, regardless of age, may find physiotherapy works wonders for their mobility. Even if the methods do not help your body directly (sometimes that may not be possible) physiotherapists are highly-qualified to identify the perfect form of physical assistance available, whether that’s a cane, a Zimmer frame or heel inserts. Practitioners will also frequently customise care plans for individual patients, so rather than soldiering on despite chronic pain or discomfort, you can learn exactly how to ease such symptoms to the greatest possible degree on your own. It may mark the difference between being capable and incapable of performing certain activities – often, for example, with the right regimen of exercises and treatments, people who were formerly unable to partake in certain sports find themselves able to once again.
You might also find your co-ordination improving, especially if something like your balance or depth perception is already inhibited! When patients are first tested, physiotherapists will assess how much of a fall risk you are and, if you seem especially likely to unbalance, you’ll often be guided through a programme of education and physical training designed to help you learn how to remain standing in a wide variety of realistic situations. If such issues reside in your vestibular system (part of your inner-ear and brain that regulates balance) then there are a number of procedures that can be carried out to reduce any symptoms of dizziness, vertigo or nausea.
Balance can also be affected by conditions such as diabetes or heart problems, too. You may find yourself losing sensation in your lower legs and feet, for example – if you’ve ever sat on your legs for too long, you’ll have some idea of how hard it is to walk and stand properly without sensation (though needless to say it’s often far more difficult for diabetics or those with serious heart ailments). Stroke patients, too, can learn how to regain bodily function, if it has been weakened or lost, through physiotherapeutic techniques – yet more testament for our body’s ability to bounce back with the right type of care. Physical exercises and manual techniques will help you to manage and reduce the impact of such sensory issues – and often may gradually take people from a total inability to even walk to having a fully-functioning lower body once again.
I hope this has given you both a sharper insight into the numerous benefits a regime of physiotherapy can bring to the body and a greater appreciation for the power that we, as individuals, can have over its recovery! It’s a pretty empowering thought to bear in mind – one that can give you a heightened feeling of ownership over your body and a greater desire to look after its health. In a world that is often trying its best to make you forget or ignore your wellbeing, that desire is an incredibly important one if you are to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So if you’re keen to look out for yourself in the long-term, whether in a preventative or therapeutic manner, why not give physiotherapy a try?