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Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists can help older people with a range of conditions. Learn how a physio could help you and how to find one.
4 min read
In this article
How physiotherapists help older people How can I get a physiotherapy appointment? What to expect at a physiotherapy appointment
How much does physiotherapy cost?

How physiotherapists help older people

Later life care physiotherapists (also referred to as ‘physios’) help older people have as much bodily movement and function as possible.

A physiotherapist can assess, treat and advise on a large number of medical conditions, including:

Checklist (ticks)
  • Dementia and frailty: exercise classes can promote mental activity, joint mobility, muscle strength and balance. Physios can also work with your family carers to teach them how to safely move and support a frail person.
  • Falls: if you have had a fall, a physio can help you improve your muscle strength and balance. Research has shown that if a physio is part of the medical team helping an older person after a fall, the risk of a fall happening again drops by up to 55%. Learn more about preventing falls.
  • Fractures: rehabilitation after broken bones, particularly common ones such as a fractured hip or wrist, is very important to get you back to your normal abilities.
  • Musculoskeletal complaints: physios can treat lower back pain, neck pain, knee pain, hip pain and pain from other joints, ligaments and muscles.
  • Osteoporosis: if you suffer from weakened bones, exercise programmes to strengthen the back muscles and encourage weight-bearing and aerobic activities can promote improvements in bone density.
  • Osteoarthritis and other arthritic conditions: physios can assess painful joints and give advice on how to maintain joint movement and strength. They can also help you with pain management, set up an activity schedule, show you how to walk correctly and advise on the use of walking aids.
  • Parkinson’s disease: physiotherapy can improve arm function, posture, walking and balance through exercise. This can make your movements easier, safer and more controlled.
  • Stroke: specialist neurological physios treat the paralysis, muscle spasms, postural control loss and functional difficulties that you might suffer from after a stroke.

Physios can help with other problems too, such as if you have a heart or lung problem, or suffer from incontinence.

How can I get a physiotherapy appointment?

You can either get physio from NHS practitioners via a referral from a doctor or another physiotherapist, or private practitioners, who don’t require a referral.

The vast majority of private practitioners treat musculoskeletal conditions and it can be more difficult to find a private physio who treats other conditions, such as stroke or incontinence.

NHS physiotherapy

A GP may refer you to physiotherapy in your local area or, in some cases, to a specialist unit. There will usually be a wait of a few weeks for this.

Some GP surgeries have direct access to a physio instead of having to see the doctor first, so you can book in directly. This works better for less complex issues such as back, neck or knee pain.

Some areas of the UK allow general self-referral to physio. Your GP surgery should be able to help with this information.

Some GP surgeries have direct access to a physio instead of having to see the doctor first, so you can book in directly. 

Private physiotherapy

If you’re happy to pay for your treatment or if you have health insurance that covers physio (check the policy), then you can self-refer to any private physiotherapy clinic.

Search online to find a physiotherapy clinic in your area or use an online directory.

  • The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s Physio2u is a searchable directory of chartered physiotherapists across the UK.
  • The Local Physio website operates a similar tool to help you find a local physio.

Some clinics offer home visits for those unable to get to the clinic. These are more expensive than normal appointments and usually you have to pay mileage from the clinic.

What to expect at a physiotherapy appointment

The initial appointment with a physio is always an assessment, although in many cases some treatment will also be given. This may last from 30 minutes to an hour.

Follow-up appointments are usually around 30 minutes and are made up mainly of treatment. Most people may have three or four follow-up sessions in their course of treatment, but it can be more if they have complex or long-term needs.

The physio will need to see the part of the body that is giving you problems. This means you may be asked to undress to some degree. If you’re worried about this, you can ask to be seen by a physiotherapist of the appropriate gender when you make the appointment.

It’s likely that you will be given some exercises to do to help your condition before you return for your follow-up appointment. 

How much does physiotherapy cost?

The cost of private physio appointments varies greatly across the UK. An initial assessment can cost from £30 to £70, or more in London. Home visits are always more expensive than clinic appointments.

If you have health insurance, it’s important to check with them before you make an appointment so the insurer can give the OK. You’ll need a reference from the insurer so the physiotherapy clinic can bill them directly and you don’t have to pay up front.

Further reading

Occupational therapy

If you have had an accident or illness, an occupational therapist can help you to regain your confidence.

Installing a stairlift

Find advice on stairlifts, wheelchair lifts, hand rails and walking sticks, and avoiding common hazards on stairways.

Falls prevention

If you’ve had a fall, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce the chances of one happening again.

Last updated: 29 Jul 2020