Our guide to physiotherapy
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to physiotherapy

First published date January 22 2014 Amended date February 02 2015

Interested in how the body works but too squeamish to become a doctor? Or are you more passionate about assisting people on the road to recovery? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a medical enthusiast wanting to make a career out of making patients injury free, or just looking for a physio qualification to have the knowledge to help out in your local sports team, a physiotherapy training course could be for you. 

Who needs a physio?

At some point in our lives, virtually all of us had some kind of physiotherapy treatment. Whether it was a playground broken arm from your primary school days or a bad back that never seemed to budge, it’s likely that a physiotherapist will have helped you on the road to recovery. Having poor posture or working in a job that requires heavy lifting could both lead to injuries treatable by physiotherapy, while physiotherapists are also often used by the elderly to keep them active and reduce the pain from ageing bones. With over 52,000 physiotherapists registered with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) and that number continuing to rise, the demand for physio treatment is higher than ever.


But what do they do?

The main role of a physio is to help restore movement to muscles and joints, helping the body function as close to normal as possible after injury or illness. This can be through giving the patients a series of exercises and stretches, or in many cases using manual therapy (more commonly known as massaging) to relieve some of the pain and stiffness to muscles. An alternative way physiotherapists help their patients is through aquatic therapy, which is essentially physio exercises carried out in water, and acupuncture, where fine needles are inserted into the skin to try and relieve the discomfort.

Is there a specific qualification I should take?

That depends on how far you want to progress in a physiotherapy career. All practising physiotherapists (i.e. people who work as NHS registered physiotherapists) have to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the regulatory body of the health care system, which can only be done by completing a HCPC-approved physiotherapy course.  So, if you’re looking to become a full time physiotherapist, you will need to have completed either a HCPC accredited undergraduate degree or one of their two year postgraduate programmes at university.


There are roles in physiotherapy which allow you to work without a formal qualification, with physiotherapist’s assistants mainly helping patients with the exercise programmes that they have been set to help them recover from their injury. Although there is no compulsory physiotherapy course to be studied for this kind of role, many decide to take a health and social care or similar qualification after leaving school, to give them a better understanding of working to help people.


What will I learn on a physiotherapy course?

Each physiotherapy course will vary in what you’ll be taught, although the vast majority of programmes combine practical hands-on experience with theory training, so you’ll be fully prepared to work as a physiotherapist. As well as plenty of time studying pathology (diagnosing illnesses and injuries) and the different treatment methods for a wide range of conditions, many degrees offer modules in specialist areas of physiotherapy, such as sports physiotherapy or working with elderly patients.


Common conditions

Although there are a huge variety of injuries and conditions that can be helped by physiotherapy, there are a few that are more commonly seen on the treatment table. Here are just five conditions that you’ll often see a physio helping a patient with:

·         Arthritis – With an estimated ten million British adults living with the condition, physiotherapists regularly provide exercise programmes to strengthen muscles and reduce pain for those suffering with joint problems.


·         Asthma – There’s much more that can be done than just using an inhaler to help relieve the pain when breathing. Physiotherapists can show the 5.4million asthma suffers nationwide how to breathe in a relaxed way, as well as how to stay active while managing the coughing and shortness of breath the patient may get.


·         Cancer – Although physiotherapy is no way of curing cancer, what it can do is limit the level of pain patients have to deal with during their treatment. Physiotherapy can also help people recovering from cancer, as it gives patients the chance of building up their strength again to get back to their everyday routine.


·         Diabetes – A healthy lifestyle is essential for patients suffering from diabetes, which can often include an exercise regime produced by a physiotherapist. Regular exercise is crucial for diabetes patients, as it reduces the risk of additional health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure.


·         High Blood Pressure – While some patients get prescribed medication to help control their blood pressure, gentle exercise schedules designed by a physio can reduce the risk of further health issues.

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