What is Orthopaedic Physiotherapy? A High-Level Introduction

By Lakeview Physio
Gayle Hulme
BScPT, Acupuncture, Certified Gunn IMS, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist
April 17, 2018

Physiotherapy is a profession of physical medicine – which applies specific exercises and hands-on treatments to help optimize a person’s movement.

Physiotherapy is a profession of physical medicine – which applies specific exercises and hands-on treatments to help optimize a person’s movement. It is a profession that has a vast array of sub-disciplines.

You may find Physiotherapists in a hospital setting helping patients recover from fractures and joint surgeries, spinal cord and brain injuries, lung conditions, and those with chronic or terminal illnesses. You may also find Physiotherapists in early childhood development settings or elder care living. As you can see – physiotherapists have a broad spectrum of knowledge across the lifespan.

Perhaps the most familiar setting you know is the private clinic, where bone, joint, and muscle conditions and injuries are rehabilitated. This is called “Orthopedic Physiotherapy” and it is the cornerstone of Lakeview Physiotherapy & Acupuncture’s practice.

In fact, you could say that orthopedic physiotherapy is the “backbone” from which many other physiotherapy sub-disciplines branch from. At our clinic, we have sub-disciplines of pelvic health physiotherapy, vestibular physiotherapy, pediatric physiotherapy, arthritis care, and clinical pilates, to name a few. But the foundation of all of these specialty services is orthopedic physiotherapy. So, just what is it?

So, What is “Orthopedic Physiotherapy”?

“The medical specialty concerned with correction of deformities or functional impairments of the skeletal system, especially the extremities and the spine, and associated structures, as muscles and ligaments.”Dictionary.com

Here is where we introduce the word “musculoskeletal” to our discussion. Orthopedic physiotherapists have advanced education and skills to assess and treat injuries and conditions that involve the skeleton (bones), muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia. All of these structures and tissues are captured and summarized by the term “musculoskeletal”. So, if you have a musculoskeletal problem, you might want to consult an orthopedic physiotherapist!

The Inter-Relationship Between Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy & Orthopedics

Physiopedia discusses the inter-relationship between “musculoskeletal and orthopedics” as follows:

“Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy is the term used to describe the field of physiotherapy, which relates to disorders of the musculoskeletal system. The term musculoskeletal refers to muscles, bones, joints, nerves, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and spinal discs.

Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy utilises the basic sciences of anatomy, physiology and biomechanics as background theory in the assessment and management of patients. Approaches to management in the field of musculoskeletal physiotherapy involve not only ‘manipulation’, but also manual assessment and treatment techniques, specific therapeutic exercise, electrotherapy and advice on posture and movement disorders.”.

This makes sense that orthopedic physiotherapy is the foundation that physiotherapists acquire as they further develop their physiotherapy practice to focus on unique areas of interest and populations. There is a lot to know about the body, how it functions, and how it is meant to move. If the basic framework of the body cannot sustain itself then all other systems struggle.

An example of this is when someone has a decreased lung capacity – whether from disease or deconditioning. If they require an exercise program to improve their lung function but have limited ribcage expansion for example – then just simply having the patient do cardiovascular exercises may not be a satisfactory rehabilitation plan. This type of person would benefit from seeing an orthopedic physiotherapist to help mobilize (“move”) the joints in and around the ribcage, release or retrain the muscles of the diaphragm and spine that connect to the ribcage. Combined with the orthopedic treatment, the cardiovascular system has a better chance of optimizing its function and recover.

The same would be true with someone struggling with weight loss. Often there are secondary limitations that affect the person’s ability to move more to burn the calories needed for weight reduction. This is commonly seen with orthopedic issues involving the knee or hip which are the load bearing joints in the body. If it hurts to put weight on the knee or hip, it would be increasingly difficult to move, which continues the cycle of a sedentary lifestyle and likely more weight gain. This is where an orthopedic physiotherapist can step in and help reduce the pain, inflammation, and joint restrictions – making moving easier and weight loss through exercise more achievable.

For the youngster and their development, orthopedic physiotherapy is crucial in ensuring how the body develops, moves, and learns how to adjust to the demands of the growth and sports. That simple ankle sprain needs skilled hands-on treatment and positive education and exercises to get it back on track so it does not impede other optimal body parts from doing their function – now and as the child grows.

When it comes to pelvic health physiotherapy, a complete orthopedic examination is pertinent to the situation. There may be postural deficits, or sub-optimal pelvic positioning that are impairing the ability for the organs and muscles of the pelvis to work properly. We use our orthopedic physiotherapy skills to address these deficits which will have a positive impact on the pelvic floor.

As you can see, orthopedic physiotherapy is the most important component of our physiotherapy practice as it extends across all ages, conditions, and abilities. With advanced coursework and experience, our physiotherapists have made a big difference in the freedom of movement, quality of life, and pain-free living in so many patients.


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