What does a physical therapist do?

According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, UK, physiotherapists use their training and skills to treat a wide range of physical problems linked to different systems in the body, including:

NEUROMUSCULAR SYSTEMS – concerned with both nerves and muscles. Nerves include the brain, spine and nerves throughout the body. Neuromuscular refers to neuromuscular junction – where nerves and muscle fibers meet, and also includes neuromuscular transmission – the transfer of information, impulses, from the nerve to the muscle.

MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEMS – an organ system that gives us the ability to move using our muscles and bones (muscular and skeletal systems). The musculoskeletal system gives us form, movement and stability. The musculoskeletal system includes our bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, and other connective tissue.

CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEMS – include the heart and the circulatory systems. The circulatory system carries nutrients and oxygen via blood vessels to the tissues of the body and removes waste and carbon dioxide from them.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEMS – include organs that are involved in breathing, such as the lungs, bronchi, trachea, larynx, throat, and nose.

In many countries doctors increasingly refer their patients to physical therapists, which is resulting in more and more patients going straight to the physical therapist without having first seen a doctor.

Physical therapy is much more than just dealing with sports-related injuries

Below are some examples of diseases and conditions physical therapists treat, often as a result of a doctor’s referral:

ASTHMA/COPD – the physical therapist will interview the patient with asthma, listen to the chest with a stethoscope, monitor how the patient breathes and how the chest moves, possibly test the patient’s breathing while exercising, and liaise with other healthcare professionals who treat the patient. The physiotherapist will help the patient learn how to breathe in a more relaxed way, this may include breathing exercises and manual therapy that aid in clearing phlem from the chest, advice on physical activity, strategies to overcome and manage wheezing and other symptoms linked to asthma – all of which significantly contribute towards the patient’s recovery.

BACK PAIN – the physiotherapist will examine the patient’s back, determine how it is affecting his/her life, and check some other aspects of the patient’s health. The physiotherapist may perform manual therapy, help the patient learn how to manage the pain, what to do to speed up recovery, and prevent a recurrence. The therapist will draw up a program that probably includes exercise, tailored specifically to the patient’s health, ability and fitness level.

CEREBRAL PALSY – the physiotherapist, along with other healthcare professionals, is involved in helping the child or adult achieve his/her potential for physical independence and fitness. The therapist also liaises closely with the patients’ caregivers or parents. If the patient is a child, the physiotherapist helps him/her and the parents/caregivers on how best to acquire skills which improve independence.

INCONTINENCE – physiotherapy is vital for the rapid recovery of urinary continence of women after childbirth and men after certain surgical procedures on the prostate gland. Depending on the patient’s needs and physical health, this may involve pelvic floor exercises, advice on what to eat and drink, electrical stimulation or biofeedback. Studies have shown that recovery of urinary function after a radical prostatectomy (surgical removal of the prostate) is likely to be much faster and better if the man sees a physical therapist.

STROKE / HEAD INJURIES / MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS – physiotherapy will help persons suffering from neurological conditions to regain function of their limbs, ultimately teaching the person how to walk again independently and also go about most activities independently.

Five most common specialty areas of physiotherapy


The orthopedic physical therapist treats injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system; this also includes rehabilitation for post-orthopedic surgery patients. The therapist is a specialist in the treatment of:

  • Postoperative joints
  • Sports injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Disease or sprain/strain injuries affecting muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons
  • Amputations


The focus here is on the older adult. The geriatric physiotherapist is a specialist in the treatment of the following:

  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Hip replacement
  • Joint replacement
  • Balance problems
  • Incontinence
  • Maintaining and increasing mobility

The main goal is to get the patient mobile again, pain management, and optimizing fitness levels, among others.


The neurological physiotherapist is specialized in treating patients with a neurological disorder or disease. This may include patients with:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Paralysis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Poor balance
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Vision impairment
  • Walking difficulties


The specialist works with patients who have a disease or disorder of the heart, circulatory system, or pulmonary system. The focus here is to improve the patient’s endurance and physical independence. Patients with pulmonary problems, such as cystic fibrosis, may need manual therapy to get fluid build-up out of the lungs. The specialist commonly works with:

  • Patients recovering from or at risk of a heart attack
  • Patients with heart failure
  • Those recovering from bypass surgery
  • Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Patients with pulmonary fibrosis


The pediatric physical therapist treats children with various diseases and disorders. The physiotherapist is also trained to diagnose health problems early on. Examples of patients may include children with:

  • Spina bifida
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Torticollis





Ever since my injuries, and having to undergo therapy at Physiocare, i can say that this has been the best experience ever. Simone and her team are to be commended for the time, the effort, and the professional service that they offer. The healing process went so well just because of PhysioCare. Thank you Simone.


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