What is a physiotherapist and how can they help?

Michael McCreight

August 23, 2021

What training and qualifications do they have?

Have you got sports injuries that are continuing to ache? Do you frequently find you pull muscles? Maybe your knees are starting to trouble you.

A physiotherapist can help with all aches and pains, and more! But wait, what exactly is a physiotherapist? How are they different from other therapists, and how can they help me?

Let’s take a deep dive into the question: What is a physiotherapist? and the training involved in becoming one.

What is a physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is a primary health care professional who treats injuries and diseases. Physiotherapy is not alternative or complementary therapy.

It’s a highly specialized field of medicine. There are over 26,000 licensed physiotherapists in Canada! They work in a variety of settings, including in the community, hospitals, clinics, and long-term care.

They work as part of a primary health care team, along with doctors and nurses. They also practice in clinics and wellness centres, treating individuals privately.

How do they compare to other medical professionals?

Physiotherapy sometimes involves hands-on mobilization of the joints by the physiotherapist. This means that it sometimes gets confused with other types of medical treatments. These include massage therapy, chiropractic therapy, and kinesiology.

Massage therapy vs. physiotherapy

Physiotherapy differs from massage therapy in its aims. Physiotherapy helps people to restore joint function and rehabilitate muscular problems.

The focus of massage therapy is relaxation. It relaxes tense muscles and relieves painful spasms. It helps to improve circulation, reduce stress, and promote soft-tissue injury recovery.

The qualifications are also different. Qualifications for physiotherapists are more stringent. This reflects their role as diagnosticians as well as therapists.

Massage therapists in Canada must also be qualified and registered, but with a different professional body.

Chiropractor vs physiotherapist

Chiropractors and physiotherapists can treat many of the same conditions. Both focus on treating muscular and skeletal pain, but the techniques they use are different.

Chiropractors usually focus more on manipulating the body during chiropractic treatment sessions. Physiotherapists may use massage and electrical stimulation of the muscles. Exercises also form part of their treatment.

Chiropractors usually focus more on back issues and bringing the spine into correct alignment. If you prefer a more whole-body approach, a physiotherapy appointment may be right for you.

Kinesiology vs physiotherapy

Again, there is overlap between these two disciplines. To qualify as either a physiotherapist or a kinesiologist, you need to spend years studying human movement.

Physiotherapy specializes in treating acute injuries or chronic issues that keep flaring up. Kinesiologists specialize in helping people overcome longstanding issues through exercise and movement.

In summary, what’s a physiotherapist best at treating? Acute issues, mobility problems, and helping you to move pain-free.

What training/qualifications do they have?

In Canada, there are strict qualification requirements to work as a physiotherapist. By law, in all parts of Canada, physiotherapists must be qualified and registered before they can practice.

How to become a physiotherapist in Canada

To become a physiotherapist in Canada, you need to complete a four-year master’s degree. This is called a Masters in Physiotherapy (MscPT). This will involve both classroom study and practical placements, where you can develop your skills hands-on.

You will complete 1,000 clinical hours as part of your studies. Currently, 15 universities in Canada offer this program. Five are in French, and ten are in English.

After completing your master’s, you will need to pass the Physiotherapy Competency Examination (PCE). This tests your knowledge and skills to ensure that you are ready to treat patients safely.

After passing this, you can apply for your physiotherapist licence. Each province has its own physiotherapy regulator.

So, what is a physiotherapist in Canada? A very well-qualified, highly skilled individual, who is dedicated to helping people move more easily!

What types of issues do they help treat?

Physiotherapists can help anyone affected by movement and function issues. This includes people with long-standing disabilities or injuries.

They can help to treat:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Knee pain and other joint issues
  • Movement problems from Parkinson’s, MS, or after stroke
  • Rehabilitation after a heart attack
  • Specific physio for cystic fibrosis
  • Whiplash
  • Sciatica

This is just a sample of the many conditions that physiotherapists can treat. Talk to a physiotherapist about your condition, and how they can help.

What specific therapies do they offer?

At your initial consultation, the physiotherapist will diagnose the problem. They will then discuss the treatment plan.

You may be expecting exercises and manipulation. But there are actually many other techniques and equipment a physiotherapist may use.

These include:

  • Ultrasound
  • TENS Machine (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
  • EMS Machine (Electrical Muscle Stimulation)
  • Acupuncture Stimulator
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Thermophore Heating
  • Soft Tissue Release

This is just a sample of the wide range of therapies they can use. Don’t worry – they will talk you through exactly what each therapy involves before they begin.

What an average session looks like

A physiotherapist can treat so many conditions, there is no average session. However, you can expect that sessions may include:

  • Massage
  • Stretching and training in specific exercises
  • Using machines, such as TENS machine or ultrasound

There is no fixed number of sessions that each person needs. Depending on your age, your condition, and medical issues, your physiotherapist will recommend a tailored plan for you.

They may also give you exercises to complete at home between sessions.

Choose Ottawa’s best For physiotherapy

Hopefully, you now know the answer to ‘What is a physiotherapist?’

These highly skilled individuals have improved the lives of millions of people across the world. Their highly developed understanding of the human body allows them to pinpoint and treat the source of your pain.

Don’t worry about Googling ‘best physiotherapist near me’! At Elysian Wellness Centre, we’ve already assembled the best physiotherapy team around. We were awarded Ottawa’s Best Physiotherapy Clinic Award 2020-21 by Faces Magazine!

We’re dedicated to helping you feel strong and live your life pain-free. Book an appointment to see one of our team today!

Michael McCreight, Registered Physiotherapist

August 23, 2021

Mike is an experienced and talented physiotherapist who holds a BSc in human kinetics and an MSc in physiotherapy. He doesn't believe in a “one-size-fits-all” approach and is committed to providing client-centred care, tailoring each treatment plan to each patient’s unique needs and personal goals.