Physiotherapy is often thought of as something we must endure after sustaining an injury, or perhaps undergoing surgery. With damage to our bodies restricting the movement of our muscles, ligaments, and tendons, physiotherapy aims to gradually restore our mobility to pre-injury levels or beyond. But despite our preconceived notions, physiotherapy is not always finished in a few weeks or months, and can sometimes be required indefinitely.
When discussing lifelong physiotherapy, there are two main categories we must examine. The first is physiotherapy for chronic conditions, which means physiotherapy is not required due to any sort of traumatic injury, but rather a medical condition. The second is maintenance physiotherapy, which is usually reserved for injuries that have not properly or completely healed.
Diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain are just a few examples of chronic conditions that can be helped by physiotherapy. Conditions like these are usually not what people think of when they hear the word “physiotherapy”, but it can be a very effective treatment if other methods have proven ineffective or insufficient. Taking diabetes as an example, physiotherapy can help with weight management, blood pressure, cholesterol, and the need for insulin. For arthritis, physiotherapy can help keep muscles and joints moving, as well as reduce inflammation. For chronic pain, it can help reduce stiffness and encourage the production of our bodies’ natural painkilling chemicals.
Maintenance physiotherapy is different to physiotherapy for chronic conditions, and is usually used for injuries that have not fully healed. In many cases, this can be used to help with historic injuries that were seemed fine at the time, but have gotten worse through the years. Ankle sprains are the perfect example of this. Since they are such a common injury, many people just rest at home until they think it has healed, which may explain why 73% of ankle injuries recur. An improperly healed ankle sprain may not be noticed by someone who has young, flexible ligaments, joints, and muscles, but can become more problematic with age, at which point maintenance physiotherapy may be used to prevent the situation from deteriorating any further.
Alternatively, maintenance physiotherapy can be used for more severe injuries that may require a tune-up of sorts every few years. One study looked at over 2,000 cases across Australasia of people who had been involved in car crashes, with the injuries ranging from whiplash to amputation. It found that maintenance physiotherapy can be effective at maintaining a person’s quality of life when other treatment forms, such as home exercises, have failed.
Although we might like to think that physiotherapy is a temporary treatment with a definitive end date, that is not always the case. Depending on the person’s condition, some form of physiotherapy may always be required going forward. The good news is that it is an effective treatment, and can help both maintain and improve a person’s quality of life.