Areas Of Physiotherapy

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Physiotherapy is an extremely wide field of study. It can be classified into different areas of focus, patient age groups, gender and type of activities (or sub-specialities). People often get confused about what it is, who it is for, and what it does. Most often one gets to learn about physiotherapy you come into contact with it for your own health matters or know someone close who is undergoing treatment. We will look at some of the basic classifications to help clear some of the confusion around this wide and complex field.

Main Areas Of Physiotherapy


Physiotherapy can be broadly segregated into 3 main areas. These areas are – Musculoskeletal, Cardio-Respiratory (sometimes also referred to Cardio-Pulmonary) and Neurology.

  1. Musculoskeletal – This is the area that deals with injuries related to the muscles, bones and joints of the human muscle and skeletal system. Conditions such as back pain, tennis elbows and ankle sprain fall into this category. Private clinics outside of the hospital setting typically focus on this area, also known as Orthopaedics.
  2. Cardio-Respiratory – This area deals with conditions related to the lung and circulatory system (e.g. heart). Conditions such as fall into this category are bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive lungs disease and pneumothorax. Generally, this is an in-patient area. This means that patients are still warded in the hospital. Out-patient care such as chest percussion treatment is sometimes called upon for patient who suffers from attacks of chest congestion and find it difficult to breath.
  3. Neurology – This area deals with rehabilitation of patients recovering from neurological condition such as stroke, cerebral palsy. Stroke depending on its severity often lead to partial paralysis of some part of the body. Neuro-physiotherapy helps the patient to recover some of the mobility and control of these body parts. It can sometimes be confused with Musculoskeletal physiotherapy. This is because it includes improving muscle strength and control. The key difference here is the source of the muscular dysfunction.

Patient Demographics

Each of these areas can be further broken down into three broad age classifications – paediatrics, adult and geriatrics.

Paediatrics deals with young infants and children. Teenagers typically are classified as an adult though these age groups do have specific needs that need to be managed separately such as growth spurts in the bone structures.

Adults are the largest group of patients for physiotherapy as they represent the bulk of the population. However, with a rapidly ageing population, geriatric physiotherapy for older adults is increasingly playing a larger role in the community.

Gender Classification

Men and women sometimes have different requirements when treating certain conditions dues to the difference in their physiology. Some are clearly visible such as the bone structure. One example is women having wider hips than men. This difference plays an important role in the treatment of knee pains.

Other differences are not as visible such as hormonal differences like estrogen and its impact on bone density as women age.

Activities and Sub-specialties

With each area, there are further sub-specialities such as sports physiotherapy. Sports physiotherapy is a sub-speciality of the Musculoskeletal area. It can be further classified to the various patient demographics. Treating young children and teenagers the same as adults with sports physiotherapy can led to irreparable damage to their growth and subsequently adult musculoskeletal frame.

Another example of sub-speciality is women health and in particular pregnant women and post-natal women.

If you get confused with an explanation of what is physiotherapy the next time, remember that the other person is most likely talking about another area of this wide field and that you are both most probably right!