Physiotherapy: How to make all the right moves

Whether working in a clinical practice or specialising in research and education, physiotherapists will always be in high demand

We may be living longer, but when it comes to maintaining mobility and an active lifestyle, many people will need hands-on, professional help at least once in their lives for anything from a knee injury to the aftermath of a stroke.

Physiotherapy – which identifies and maximises our potential to move around, however weak, unfit or old we are – was once seen as a career best suited to white, middle-class women who might balk at more demanding, "coal-face" medical roles. Today, however, its role is far more mainstream.

Jill Higgins is director of practice and development at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), the professional body for the country's 47,000 chartered physiotherapists, students and assistants.

She believes the profession's expertise in health promotion, treatment and rehabilitation among people whose problems may be related to ageing, accident or illness, is a vital weapon in the battle to improve the nation's health and keep us on the move.

Far from being an undemanding occupation, she says that physiotherapy offers a wide spectrum of different career paths and attracts an increasingly diverse range of practitioners – many of them with a specialist BSc degree in the subject – throughout the public and private sectors.

"We're still not 50-50 in terms of men and women, but we have more men than ever, as well as a more diverse and representative ethnic and social mix. We hope this trend will continue."

Aside from three- or four-year degree programmes, there are a range of other options. They include part-time study, which is often tailored towards physiotherapy assistants looking for chartered status, accelerated programmes for graduates with a degree in a different, but related, subject and work-based learning leading to professional qualification.

"There is a wide range of opportunities, both here and overseas, depending on where and with whom you want to work," says Higgins. "Whether you opt for a clinical practice setting aimed at children, the elderly or orthopaedic patients perhaps, or prefer to specialise in research and education, there is great demand for your skills."

The variety of the work done by physiotherapists in a range of different settings is intriguing. While physios based in hospital outpatient clinics will treat anything from sports injuries to repetitive strain injury, a women's health practitioner will focus on ante- and post-natal care, exercise and posture, and rehabilitation in the aftermath of gynaecological operations.

Among elderly patients, treating arthritis or assisting people with Parkinson's disease will be a routine matter, as will maintaining mobility and independence. Schools may use physios in support of children with developmental movement problems, while in sports and community centres the agenda may be focused on back care and preventative work.

While many physios work independently in private practice, or are based in hospitals or GP's surgeries, others may be employed in the workplace, advising employers how to avoid staff injuries and promote safer work practices. Relaxation and body awareness classes for the mentally ill or terminally ill are another branch of the profession.

Although many NHS patients are astonished to find that their physiotherapy sessions are limited to just six, Higgins believes that for more acute musculoskeletal or cardiovascular problems, this should not be the case.

"There are, of course, budgetary constraints in terms of how often many of our patients will get to see us, but if someone has a clear need for more treatment, this will be delivered."

She adds: "Although there have, in the last few years, been problems in securing enough training places for junior physiotherapists in the NHS, this is now being addressed and we hope many more graduates will choose physiotherapy as a career, so that the growing demand can be catered for."

In terms of patient attitudes, the status of the profession has, she says, never been higher.

"Physiotherapy is very well respected among the public for what it achieves among a wide spectrum of patients who, for reasons of accident or illness, need help to achieve or improve their levels of mobility."

While the nation's appetite for complementary therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and chiropractic is growing, Higgins believes that the various approaches are by no means mutually exclusive.

"Many physios do practise acupuncture as part of what we see as our essentially holistic approach to the treatment of illness and disease. But we believe there is a place for everyone and that the different therapies on offer are essentially complementary rather than competitive."

In terms of academic strengths, physiotherapy will require a sound science background in subjects such as biology and chemistry, as well as, if possible, a degree. Yet the personal qualities of a candidate may be just as important in the long run.

"This is a people profession and it is essential that physiotherapists can talk to their patients, relate to their conditions and, ultimately, get the best out of them," Higgins says. "We are looking for well-rounded people who are able to engage with others. If candidates have that essential gift, there are some really exciting career opportunities out there."

For more information, visit the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) website, www.csp.org.uk

'It is possible to make a lucrative career out of physiotherapy'

Along with his partner, Matt Todman, 39, runs seven London-based Sports & Spinal Clinics, with premises in Harley Street, Fulham and the City. He has been in independent practice for 10 years and employs 40 chartered physiotherapists. His clientele, around 5,000 people a year, range from world-class tennis players, rock stars and captains of industry to ordinary members of the public. His fees are around £150 an hour.

I was four when a broken collar bone introduced me to the world of medicine and from that point on, I was hooked. After taking a post-graduate diploma in physiotherapy, I qualified in 1992 and took up a position at the Whittington Hospital in North London.

Sadly, I found the training I had received was of little relevance to the patients who came to me for treatment and I'm convinced I actually made their back pain or knee stiffness worse, rather than better.

I quit the NHS soon after, and subsequently did a degree in physiotherapy to help me break in to private practice.

That fact that 60 per cent of our new patients have already seen another physiotherapist but still have problems is testament to how ineffective some physiotherapy can be.

All of us in the profession can make people feel better in the short-term, but long-term recovery is very different, particularly for the baby boomer 60-year-old who is no longer prepared to put up with premature old age or immobility.

We offer all our patients 30 minutes of manual or manipulation physio, as well as a further 30 minutes with a rehabilitation physio who coaches you in how to move better.

If a patient is not moving better, or at least differently, after three sessions, we suggest something more invasive such as surgery, but we always try to solve the problem before that stage is reached.

Our premises are in expensive areas of London, so the overheads are high, but if you put in the hours and have real passion about your work, it is certainly possible to make a lucrative career out of physiotherapy.

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

MBDA UK Ltd: HR Advisor - Recruitment and Graduate Programme

Competitive Salary & Benefits: MBDA UK Ltd:    What’s the opportunity? We...

MBDA UK Ltd: Software Graduate

Competitive Salary & Benefits: MBDA UK Ltd:   Role Title: Softwa...

Guru Careers: Graduate Database Administrator / Junior DBA

£20 - 25k: Guru Careers: A Graduate Database Administrator / Junior DBA is nee...

Guru Careers: Graduate Administrator / Junior Operations Admin

£20 - 25k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Administrator / Junior Oper...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen