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Health & Fitness

Benefits of Physiotherapy

Physiotherapist assisting a female patient exercising
Physiotherapist assisting a female patient exercising. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Most of us think physiotherapy is a treatment for people recovering from an injury. Physiotherapy, also known as physical therapy, is an underutilised but potentially powerful treatment for a wide range of health issues.

Arthritis and joint pain: Living with the pain of arthritis can be challenging. Most people take painkillers, yet physiotherapy manages pain in the neck, shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, and back that may arise from arthritis. Other painful joint conditions like, frozen shoulder or tennis elbow can also be managed with physical therapy.

Pelvic pain and incontinence: People with pelvic pain or urine/stool incontinence may benefit from pelvic rehabilitation exercises. However, see a doctor before the pelvic rehabilitation therapy. The root of your problem must be addressed fully in order for the physical therapy to be effective.

Brain and nerve problems: Physiotherapy improves muscle responsiveness in paralysis and diseases that cause stiffness like Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy. It helps improve muscle strength in patients whose arms and legs have wasted away, for example, after an accident.

Physiotherapy can help one recover from a stroke. It works to improve balance and restore normal posture. It is also useful in treatment of brain and spinal cord injury, sciatica, multiple sclerosis and even, Alzheimer's disease.

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Sciatica is a painful nerve condition affecting the legs.

Heart and lung problems: People with lung diseases or severe lung infections (especially the elderly), need a little help getting the lungs to clear out secretions and function optimally. In addition, a major surgery or a heart attack, can lead to poor lung function necessitating the use of breathing exercises to get the lung function back to normal. Patients with heart failure may need help clearing fluid in the lungs.

Ear related balance problems: Dizzy spells and balance problems can be as a result of problems in the ear (vestibular section). There are exercises that can be implemented to help restore normal balance and co-ordination.

Jaw pain: Occasionally, one can develop severe pain of the jaw. This is usually related to a joint just in front of the ear known as the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). Often, this type of pain is more common among the elderly and after injuries to the jaw. Treatment of this type of pain can include jaw exercises and thermal therapy.

Muscle pain and chronic fatigue: This can be as a result of occupational strain, working out at the gym, or a nasty fall, or from medical conditions such as fibromyalgia. It can be treated using heat therapy and hydrotherapy.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition in which one constantly feels drained and exhausted (even when one has done little activity). Physiotherapy helps people with CFS relax and improve their day-to-day function.

Pregnancy-related pain: During pregnancy, one is discouraged from taking unnecessary medication. However, pregnancy can be plagued with lots of pain especially in the back and legs.

With the help of a good physiotherapist, you can successfully manage the aches and pains of pregnancy. However, talk to your obstetrician before visiting a physiotherapist and discuss what exercises/forms of treatment that are safe for you. Women with pregnancies at risk (those who are having abnormal bleeding or abnormally placed placentas or those leaking amniotic fluid) are not candidates for most of the treatment offered by physiotherapists.

Sports training and injuries: Besides sprains, strains and tendon injuries, a sports therapist can help one enhance their performance and at the same time teach you how to avoid injury.

If you notice that you are having pain in a particular joint during a workout, it may be prudent to have yourself assessed by a physiotherapist.

Rehabilitation after fractures and surgery: Once a limb has been broken, it is important to restore it to normal function. Physiotherapy helps with strength training, joint flexibility and general mobility.

Age-related problems: As one gets older, you may find yourself having problems with mobility and physical function. Physiotherapy among the elderly is used to reduce pain, restore mobility and improve physical fitness.

Physiotherapists can also help one select the proper assisted walking devices including crutches, walking frame and a cane.

Children with disability: Conditions that affect either muscles, bones, spine or brain may benefit from physiotherapy. It helps improve the child’s overall well-being and enhances limbs function.

Dealing with lymphoedema:

This is accumulation of fluid in the limbs after removal or destruction of the lymph nodes. It is a common complaint in women or men who have had breast cancer surgery and people who have had radiotherapy to their groin. Physiotherapists use decongestive therapy to help drain the fluid accumulated in the affected limb.

‘Special’ benefits

You could avoid surgery: Most people undergoing joint or spine surgery do it because of pain. Physiotherapy can reduce pain and restore function/mobility effectively.

Reducing medication load Painful conditions such as arthritis can require up to four painkillers to manage the discomfort. In addition, one may need injections when the pain is too intense. Most of these drugs have severe long-term effects and some are addictive. Physiotherapy can help reduce the number of drugs one is taking and eliminate the need for medication entirely.

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