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What Does a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist Do?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A musculoskeletal physiotherapist treats patients with musculoskeletal disorders like back and neck pain and whiplash. Some also treat some forms of persistent headaches, if these have a musculoskeletal component, and may work with patients on other health issues as well. These health care practitioners can work in hospitals and clinics as well as mobile practices. Work in this field can involve a variety of patients, from young children to aging adults who need assistance with the aches and pains of old age.

Some patients may seek out a musculoskeletal physiotherapist therapist to help them with a specific issue, while others are referred by a primary care provider. Some work in conjunction with other care providers to provide comprehensive treatment. A patient recovering from a car accident, for example, might see a spinal surgeon, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, and other care providers like massage therapists. The working environment is usually pleasant and may include benefits like access to a swimming pool after hours.

When a patient meets a musculoskeletal physiotherapist for the first time, the therapist typically reviews his chart, discusses his medical history, and asks him about the current issue. The patient may need to walk and perform some simple, low-impact exercises to allow the therapist to collect baseline information about his musculoskeletal system. With this information, it is possible to tailor a custom treatment plan for the patient that will resolve the issue and reduce the risk of future injuries.

In the clinic or office, the musculoskeletal physiotherapist can ask the patient to complete exercises to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion. They can work with a variety of tools like exercise balls, grab rails, weight machines, and water pools. Some patients benefit from massage or electrotherapy to stimulate muscles and promote blood flow. The therapist also develops exercises for the patient to use at home between sessions. As therapy progresses, periodic assessments can determine the patient's changing needs and help the therapist stay on track with the treatment plan.

People interested in careers in this area should plan on attending college for a degree in musculoskeletal physiotherapy. They may need to pass certification exams to work, depending on where they wish to practice. Continuing education can be helpful even if it's not required, to allow a physiotherapist to keep up with the latest research and developments in the field. Some choose to join professional organizations to network with other working therapists and access trade publications and other benefits.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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