What is physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a mainstream holistic therapy which helps ill, injured or disabled people recover movement and function to achieve their full potential.

What does a physiotherapist do?

A physiotherapist specialises in helping people who have problems with movement. Therapy consists of natural methods such as exercise, manipulation, heat and massage or ultrasound to help develop good patterns of movement.

Physiotherapists are trained healthcare professionals who can also advise on the best ways of carrying, holding and positioning a disabled person or child. They normally work within multi-disciplinary teams in the NHS but can also be found in private practices or even health and fitness centres. They aim to treat physical problems linked to the musculo-skeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and respiratory body systems.

How can I get physiotherapy?

A medical professional can refer you to a physiotherapist but in some areas you can self-refer.

For further information, contact your GP, or one of these organisations:

Questions parents ask physios

When you first learn that your child has difficulties with movement, it can be a confusing time. There may be lots of questions that you want answers to immediately. The difficulty is that there aren’t always simple answers to simple questions. Nobody can predict the development of any child, even when that child has a specific diagnosis. Your physiotherapist is being truthful when she says that she doesn't know or is not sure about what your child will achieve.

"Will my child catch up?"

This will depend on the reason for your child's difficulties. You will discuss this from time to time as your child gets older. There may be some aspects of physical development that will catch up but others that will not. Look for the strengths that your child has rather than focus on the difficulties.

"Will my child walk?"

This is one of the most pressing questions that any parent asks. There are some indicators that can predict the possibility of achieving independent walking. Your physiotherapist can discuss these with you. Some children, as they get older, choose not to use walking as their main means of getting around because they find it too tiring or it may not leave their hands free. This may be one choice, among many, that they will make.

"Will my child need surgery?"

Some children with movement difficulties may need surgery at some stage of their lives. This may just be a release of soft tissue or may be more complex orthopaedic surgery. Professionals will want to keep surgery to a minimum and will try other approaches such as muscle relaxants first. The aim is to give your child maximum comfort and independence. If surgery is advised, try to time any surgery to keep disruption of family life, schooling and your child's progress to a minimum. Many children never need surgery.

"There is so much to do in the day, how will I ever fit physiotherapy in as well?"

At the beginning there seems to be so much to learn about your child, some of it quite complicated. But you will soon become the expert at handling your child. Many of the "exercises" will just be a part of your everyday care. If you have worries, talk to your physio.

"I've seen children who get all bent and I don't want my child to be like that when she gets bigger. What can I do?"

Some children have stiff muscles that want to pull them into a particular position or way of moving. These children need frequent stretches of their tight muscles, help to lie, sit and stand well. They may also benefit from splints, a special jacket or particular footwear. There are many ways to help your child. Your physiotherapist can help to guide you through these.

"My physiotherapist gives me things to do with my child but I never feel that I do them as well as she does."

You know your child better than anyone and can feed back to your physiotherapist about what works well with your child and what is more difficult. It’s important that all those who care for the child do the activities. Everyday care makes the difference, not just the less frequent sessions with the physiotherapist.

The physiotherapy session is not only used to treat your child but also to monitor and change his daily physical programme. Your physiotherapist will change this as your child grows and develops. There may be times when your child needs more "hands on" physiotherapy. At other times, you may only need verbal advice. It will all depend on your child's progress and needs at the time.

"My child cries during physiotherapy sessions. Does it hurt?"

Physiotherapy should not hurt your child, so it’s worth considering other reasons why children may cry during the session. Your physiotherapist will understand how distressing this may be for you and your child. The following are some of the possible reasons:

  • insecurity about being held by anyone other than his parents
  • sensitivity to touch
  • fear of being hurt
  • doesn't like/want to do physiotherapy

You can talk with your physiotherapist about the reasons and try to find a way to resolve the situation. Usually the crying stops once the child feels safe and knows what to expect.

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