Orthopaedic physiotherapy fits the widely held public perception of physiotherapy as it is the specialism dealing with musculoskeletal injury and illness and their rehabilitation. Typically the practice of this field involves restoring and repairing muscular sprains and ruptures, and joints and broken bones.
Conditions treated by orthopaedic physiotherapy
The list of specific physical injuries that an orthopaedic physiotherapist could expect to treat would be an extremely long one, and it would be more appropriate to discuss the commonly occurring conditions they might treat in more general terms. Muscular problems are one such issue, and can range in severity from simple overuse or hyperextension, to a stage three muscular strain, in which the muscle is ruptured resulting in immediate and debilitating pain and loss of functionality. Muscles can tear due to hyperextension because of exercise or trauma, either of which would be treated by a physio in due course.
The world of skeletal treatment is a far ranging and complicated one, and almost all skeletal problems will have to be rehabilitated by a physical therapist to some extent. This is because the bones and joints most susceptible to injury are the ones on which we must rely for day to day activity. In this category it’s not just bones that are affected however, the skeletal system is actually also composed of a host of other components designed to facilitate a broad range of movement without damage. These include ligaments (which connect bone to bone), tendons (linking bone to muscle), cartilage (a material used to reduce friction between bones), and the Synovial fluid (found in sacs, this is a gel fluid that serves to lubricate movement between bones).
Typical skeletal issues include inflammation of components like the hip or wrist because of arthritis, a condition which can be chronic, degenerative, and painful, resulting in a gradual loss of mobility if not treated by both a physician and physiotherapist. Similarly inflammation of either the tendons (e.g. Achilles Tendonitis) or the Bursae (Bursitis) can be painful and debilitating, and it is only through medical treatment followed by carefully structured rehabilitation that proper usage can be restored.
Fractures can range from simple breaks in the bone to skin piercing compound fractures which leave many bone fragments that, if not treated properly, will either not recover or heal improperly. Fractures of the shin (Tibia) or thigh (Femur) bones can often be quite severe, leaving you unable to walk.
A brief list of conditions or symptoms which can benefit from physical therapy include:
- Stiffness and loss of range of motion and/or mobility.
- Joint replacement and post-operative rehabilitation.
- Work related or traffic accident resulting in physical trauma.
- Reconstructive surgery which requires restoration of functional movement.
What do orthopaedic physiotherapists do?
As in all other forms of physiotherapy, an orthopaedic physio works to improve your quality of life by restoring your mobility, co-ordination, confidence, and self sufficiency. With musculoskeletal injuries, there are a number of routes through which a physio can achieve these goals. Your therapist will always conduct an assessment of their own to establish how best to treat you before going on to arranging your rehabilitation.
Pain is a major issue which is sometimes inadequately dealt with by medication. Whether because of contra-indications or simply long term use and hence tolerance, the consequences of pain are unpleasant for both a patient and their loved ones. Physios can manage your pain using techniques like deep tissue massage, hydrotherapy, electrotherapy, and manipulations. In the longer term, functional rehabilitation reduces pain by making movements easier.
This functional rehabilitation involve relieving stiffness and restoring range of movement, goals achieved by gradually working injured structures more and more whilst being careful not to overwork them and hence exacerbate the condition. A physiotherapist will use any tools at their disposal to help you regain functionality. Splints or braces can be used to support slight movement at the beginning, followed by resistance training using either small weights or resistance bands. This type of training sees you move the affected area in a range of motions with some resistance to strengthen and build the muscles of both the injury and the surrounding (and hence stabilising) area. Physios will often also use underwater exercises and Swiss balls to train stability and balance, both of which are tools for recovery and prevention of any future injury.
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