Physiotherapy is an extremely wide field of study. It can be classified into different areas of focus, patient age groups, gender and type of activities (or sub-specialties). As a result, people often get confused about what it is, who it is for and what it does. Most often one gets to learn about physiotherapy you come into contact with it for your own health matters or know someone close who is undergoing treatment. We will look at some of the basic classifications to help clear some of the confusion around this wide and complex field.
Main Areas of Physiotherapy
Broadly, physiotherapy can be segregated into 3 main areas - Musculoskeletal, Cardio-Respiratory (sometimes also referred to Cardio-Pulmonary) and Neurology.
- Musculoskeletal - This is the area that deals with injuries related to the muscles, bones and joints of the human muscle and skeletal system. Conditions such as back pain, tennis elbows and ankle sprains fall into this category. Private clinics outside of the hospital setting typically focus on this area. This area is sometimes referred to as Orthopaedics.
- Cardio-Respiratory - This area deals with conditions related to the lung and circulatory system (e.g. heart). Conditions such as fall into this category are bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive lungs disease and pneumothorax. Generally, this is an in-patient area. Meaning patient are still warded in the hospital such as after cardiac surgery. Out-patient care such as chest percussion treatment is sometimes called upon for patient who suffers from attacks of chest congestion and find it difficult to breath.
- Neurology - This area deals with rehabilitation of patients recovering from neurological condition such as stroke, cerebral palsy. Stroke depending on its severity often lead to partial paralysis of some part of the body. Neuro-physiotherapy helps the patient to recover some of the mobility and control of these body parts. This is often confused with the Musculoskeletal area of physiotherapy as it includes improving muscle strength and control. The key difference here is the source of the muscular dysfunction.
Each of these areas can be further broken down into three broad age classification - pediatrics, adult and geriatrics. Pediatrics deals with young infants and children. Teenagers typically are classified as adult though these age group do have specific needs that needs to be managed separately such growth spurts in the bone structures. Adults are the largest group of patients for physiotherapy as they represent the bulk of the population. However, with a rapidly aging population, geriatric physiotherapy for older adults is increasingly playing a larger role in the community.
Men and women sometimes have different requirements when treating certain conditions dues to the difference to their physiology. Some are clearly visible such as the bone structure. One example is women having wider hips than men. This difference plays an importance role in the treatment of knee pains.
Other differences are not as visible such as hormonal difference such estrogen and its impact on bone density as women age.
Activities and Sub-specialties
With each area, there are further sub-specialties such as sports physiotherapy. Sports physiotherapy is a sub-specialty of the Musculoskeletal area. It can be further classified to the various patient demographics. Treating young children and teenagers the same as adult with sports physiotherapy can led to irreparable damage to their growth and subsequently adult musculoskeletal frame. Another example of sub-specialty is women health and in particularly pregnant women and post-natal women. So the next time, if you get confused with an explanation of what is physiotherapy, remember that the other person is most likely talking about another area of this wide field and that you are both most probably right!