Physiotherapist Job Description - Duties, Skills and Career
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Physiotherapist Job Description
A physiotherapist (or physical therapist) is a healthcare professional. Physiotherapists help people of all ages to develop, maintain and restore movement and functional abilities that have been impaired by illness, injury or aging.
Physiotherapy is used in health and social care settings for the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal, neurological and cardiovascular diseases and disorders. For example, physiotherapists work with patients who have functional problems resulting from sprains, strains, and fractures, arthrosis and arthritis, neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and strokes, spinal and neck injuries, as well as injuries related to work and/or sports.
A physiotherapist’s main objective is to improve their patients’ quality of life, reduce pain and increase flexibility, strength and movement, using a range of physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques.
Let’s take a detailed look at what the job of a physiotherapist involves.
The first thing a physiotherapist does when taking on a new patient is to review their complete medical history and medical records (i.e. prescriptions, current and past conditions, treatment, medication etc). They then perform a number of tests and exams designed to evaluate the patient’s physical and motor skills (e.g. coordination, posture, strength and mobility), using a range of tools and instruments, including balance beams, reflex hammers, muscle strength testing equipment and physical treatment tables. Once the patient’s specific requirements have been established, the physiotherapist develops and implements a personal treatment plan. Physiotherapy may be provided to patients individually or in groups, with treatments varying according to the nature of the problem or condition. For instance, patients recovering from a stroke require a different type of treatment to those who have an orthopedic condition, such as a sports injury.
Physiotherapists therefore need to be able to administer a wide range of manipulations, exercises and treatments, including:
- Soft tissue massages on muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves (also known as massage therapy)
- Mobilization and manipulation of muscles and joints
- Electrical stimulation to promote muscle contraction
- Applying heat to specific areas of the body to stimulate blood circulation
- Applying cold treatment to specific areas of the body to reduce inflammation
Physiotherapists also employ a range of physiotherapy equipment based on technology such as magnetic fields, lasers, ultrasound, electrical currents and infrared light, as well as techniques such as acupuncture and compression therapy. They also provide functional movement training, which may include the use of mobility equipment such as crutches and wheelchairs.
Another important aspect of the role of a physiotherapist is educating patients - for example, teaching them simple exercises they can carry out by themselves at home, encouraging them to lead a healthy and active lifestyle and helping them to prevent new conditions from developing.
Physiotherapists also provide patients and their families with emotional, practical and psychological advice and support to help them cope with the recovery process.
Another of a physiotherapist’s key duties is constantly monitoring their patients’ progress against the treatment or recovery plan.
In cases where the expected improvements are not seen, a physiotherapist may adjust the treatment plan and propose new types of treatment or therapy. Physiotherapists are responsible for promptly and accurately recording all developments in the patient’s medical records and for liaising with doctors, nurses and other medical staff, as and when required.
Physiotherapists enjoy a wide range of employment opportunities. For instance, they may work in health and social care facilities, such as hospitals, care homes, private surgeries and practices, medical and rehabilitation centres, or provide patients with home care services. They may also be employed in sports centres, gyms and fitness clubs, or join the medical staff looking after a professional athlete or sports team. Generally, physiotherapists work as part of multi-disciplinary teams, alongside occupational therapists, speech therapists, doctors and nurses, psychologists and health education specialists.
The role of a physiotherapist is a physically very demanding one, involving lifting, moving and manipulating patients and which therefore requires physical strength and stamina. Physiotherapists also need strong interpersonal skills in order to be able to communicate with patients and their families in a professional manner and show understanding and empathy.
Finally, as with all healthcare professionals, physiotherapists are required to comply with very strict rules on privacy and the protection of personal data in order to protect patient confidentiality.
Physiotherapist Responsibilities and Tasks
A physiotherapist’s main tasks include:
- Evaluating the medical history and the movement and functional abilities of new patients
- Developing treatment plans based on medical diagnoses and prescriptions
- Providing patients with massage therapy to relieve soft tissue pain
- Mobilizing and manipulating muscles and joints
- Providing treatment using physiotherapy and rehabilitation equipment (e.g. laser therapy, electrotherapy)
- Giving patients exercises designed to strengthen and increase their motor abilities
- Showing patients exercises that they can perform on their own at home (and correcting any incorrect posture / movements)
- Motivating patients to develop their strength and perform exercises by themselves without supervision
- Helping patients and their families cope with the recovery process
- Keeping updated patient records detailing all therapy provided (i.e. treatment and results)
- Adjusting plans and prescribing new treatment, where necessary
How to Become a Physiotherapist - Education and Training
To become a physiotherapist usually requires a degree in physiotherapy or some other type of formal healthcare training.
University-level physiotherapy programs provide students with in-depth knowledge in a range of subjects, including anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, psychomotor education, prosthetics.
In addition to theoretical training, aspiring physiotherapists also need practical training in a healthcare or social care setting, where they can gain experience administering physical therapy, massage therapy and equipment-based therapy (e.g. using lasers and ultrasound etc) and learn how to develop treatment plans and exercise programs. In some countries, there may be a legal requirement for physiotherapists to obtain a license before they can practice.
Once they have completed their initial training, it is important for physiotherapists to regularly update their knowledge by attending refresher courses, where they can learn the latest rehabilitation techniques and best practices.
Skills and Qualifications
Physiotherapists require the following skills:
- Knowledge of various forms of physical therapy (e.g. manipulation, massage therapy, postural therapy)
- Knowledge of equipment-based therapy, such as laser therapy, magnet therapy, ultrasound therapy, etc.
- Ability to apply pain alleviation methods
- Ability to provide physiotherapy treatment without supervision
- Physical strength and stamina
- Empathy and an aptitude for interpersonal relations
- Ability to work as part of a multidisciplinary team
- Flexible approach to working hours and willingness to work shifts
Physiotherapist - Career Path
Most of the career development paths open to physiotherapists involve specializing in a specific group of patients. The most common areas of specialization are:
- Orthopedic physiotherapy - dealing with musculoskeletal problems
- Cardiopulmonary physiotherapy - treating patients affected by heart and lung disorders
- Neurological physiotherapy - providing neurological rehabilitation to patients who have suffered strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or spinal cord injuries
- Geriatric physiotherapy - treating elderly patients
- Pediatric physiotherapy - providing individual and group therapy to children
- Sports physiotherapy - working with sportsmen and women
Alternative career development paths physiotherapists may choose to follow include training to become an osteopath or holistic practitioner, qualifying to provide specific forms of therapy, such as water therapy or shiatsu massage therapy, or doing additional medical training and becoming a nurse.
Top Reasons to Work as a Physiotherapist
One of the main reasons people go into physiotherapy is the opportunity to help people get better.
Physiotherapy is a very practical profession, in which physical contact between therapist and patient plays a key role. The contact between a therapist and his or her patients and the chance to contribute to improving people’s quality of life is one of the most valued and appreciated aspects of the job.
Physiotherapy is a very varied profession, offering multidisciplinary environments that foster professional growth and development. The sector offers large numbers of employment opportunities in a variety of locations and settings across the country, including hospitals, private clinics, medical practices, sports clubs and rehabilitation centres. Finally, the great variety of settings and wide choice of specializations on offer enable aspiring physiotherapists to shape their careers according to their own personal interests and strengths.