What can a physiotherapist help with?
Later life care physiotherapists (also referred to as ‘physios’) help older people have as much bodily movement and function as possible by assessing their problems or injury, providing treatment, and advising on their long-term needs in their homes, in hospitals and in care homes.
Older people have specialised needs and often have more than one medical condition at any one time, making the assessment and management of their problem more complicated.
A physiotherapist can assess, treat and advise on a large number of medical conditions, including:
- Dementia and frailty: exercise classes can promote mental activity, joint mobility, muscle strength and balance. Physios can also work with your family members to teach them how to safely move and support you.
- 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%.
- 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.
What different kinds of physios are there?
- Musculoskeletal physios help people who have problems with their muscles, joints and ligaments of the body’s moving parts. They use manipulation, mobilisation techniques, exercise, soft tissue treatments and electrotherapy.
- Neurological physios specialise in treating conditions that affect the nervous system, such as stroke, MS, Parkinson’s and head injuries.
- Other physios specialise in care of older people, palliative care (such as if someone has cancer), women’s health, rehabilitation after heart and lung illnesses, osteoporosis and falls prevention.
Regardless of their specialism, many physios also use acupuncture as an add-on treatment to help manage painful conditions.
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.
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 and 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.
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.
To find a physiotherapy clinic in your area, do a Google search such as ‘physiotherapy Surbiton’ or take a look at Local Physio, which operates a dedicated 'Find a Physio' searchable directory for chartered physiotherapists across the UK, and Physio2u.
When you call your chosen clinic to make an appointment they will take your details, ask you what you’re attending for and advise you as necessary.
Most people attend the physiotherapy clinic, but some clinics do 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. Clinics typically offer home visits only within a certain radius due to travelling times and costs.
What happens 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 won’t always be possible to fulfil this request, however.
It’s likely that you will be given some exercises to do to help your condition before you return for your follow-up appointment. These will typically be demonstrated by the physiotherapist and you may be given a sheet to remind you how to do them at home.
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 direct and you don’t have to pay up front.
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