Physical therapy (PT), also known as physiotherapy, is one of the allied health professions that, by using mechanical force and movements (bio-mechanics or kinesiology), manual therapy, exercise therapy, and electrotherapy, remediates impairments and promotes mobility and function. Physical therapy / physiotherapy is used to improve a patient’s quality of life through examination, diagnosis, prognosis, physical intervention, and patient education.

In addition to clinical practice, other activities encompassed in the physical therapy profession include research, education, consultation and administration. Physical therapy services may be provided as primary care treatment or alongside, or in conjunction with, other medical services like occupational therapy, speech therapy, social work, psychology.

Physical therapy / physiotherapy attempts to address the illnesses, or injuries that limit a person’s abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. PTs are considered first line practitioners in South Africa, and thus are able to use an individual’s history and physical assessment to arrive at a diagnosis and establish a management plan and, when necessary, incorporate the results of laboratory and imaging studies like X-rays, CT-scan, or MRI findings.

PT management commonly includes prescription of, or assistance with specific exercises, manual therapy / manipulation, education, physical agents which includes heat, cold, electricity, sound waves, assistive devices, prostheses, orthoses and other interventions (taping).

In addition, PT’s work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programmes for healthier and more active lifestyles, providing services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. This includes providing therapeutic treatment in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by aging, injury, disease or environmental factors.

Physical therapy is a professional career which has many specialties including musculoskeletal, sports injuries, cardiopulmonary, geriatrics, orthopaedics, neurological, paediatrics and women’s health. Neurological rehabilitation in particular, is an emerging field. PT’s practice in many settings, such as private-owned physical therapy clinics, outpatient clinics, health and wellness clinics, rehabilitation hospitals, private homes, education and research centres, schools, gyms and sports training facilities.

Physical therapists also practice in the non-patient care roles such as health policy, health insurance, health care administration and as health care executives. Physical therapists are involved in the medical-legal field serving as experts.

Education /training of physiotherapists varies greatly by country. Prior to seeing a physiotherapist, look at their basic qualifications and post graduate involvement in continuing to improve both themselves and their profession.