The physiotherapy approach to promoting,
restoring or maintaining the health of the patient, uses
core skills which include:
Skilled hands-on (manual) therapy such as mobilisation,
manipulation, massage and trigger-point release;
myofascial release techniques, stretching techniques
designed exercise programmes,
Specialised electrotherapy equipment
Suitable walking aids, splints and appliances
Broadly, the expected
outcomes of a physiotherapy treatment programme include:
invasive/surgical treatment where possible and where
surgical treatment is contra-indicated
Quicker process of
Improved or restored
Increased performance and
Increased range of
Minimising of muscle
Prevention of further or
swelling & muscle spasm
Repaired tissue damage
A physiotherapist is a first
line practitioner in human treatments; this means
they make their own clinical judgements and treatment
choices. This use of clinical reasoning is a problem-solving
approach to patient-centred care.
treatments, physiotherapists usually work under referral
from or in consultation with veterinarians.
Where do physiotherapists work?
Physiotherapists work in a
great variety of settings such as:
departments - treating spinal and joint problems,
injuries through accidents and sports injuries.
Intensive Care Units -
keeping limbs mobile and chests clear from infection.
Women’s Health - ante-
and post-natal care advice, exercise and posture,
managing continence and post-gynaecological operations.
Conditions affecting the
elderly – helping patients to maintain mobility and
independence, providing rehabilitation after falls,
treatment of arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, chest
conditions (bronchitis, pneumonias)
Neurology - helping
people restore normal movement and function after a
stroke, multiple sclerosis, head injury and other
Orthopaedics - restoring
mobility after hip and knee replacements and spinal
operations, treating patients after accidents.
Mental Illness - taking
classes in relaxation and body awareness, improving
confidence and self-esteem through exercise.
Occupational Health -
treating employees in small to large organisations and
companies, looking at work habits to prevent physical
problems such as repetitive strain injury.
(Palliative Care) - working in the community or in
hospices, treating patients with cancer and AIDS.
Paediatrics – in
hospitals treating sick and injured children, in
institutions for those with severe mental and physical
handicaps, or in schools for children with conditions
like cerebral palsy
Community - treating a
wide variety of patients at home and giving advice to
family members and carers.
Private Sector - working
independently in private practice, clinics, hospitals,
and GP surgeries, treating a wide range of conditions.
Education and Health
Promotion - teaching people about many conditions and
lifestyle choices. This may include back care,
ergonomics, taking exercise classes and cardiac
Sports clinics -
treating injuries in sportsmen and women, advising on
recovering fitness and avoiding repeated injury.
- advising and consulting for organisations supporting
and caring for people with head injuries, spinal
injuries, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
One of the really wonderful aspects of physiotherapy is the
wide choice of work situations. As a qualified
physiotherapist you may choose to see patients in a
particular age range for example teaching a mother in
preparation for the birth of her child; handling tiny babies
with lung infections or cerebral palsy, coaxing older
children (and adults) to move again after surgery, injury or
burns. You can work with patients suffering from the aches
and pains of approaching middle age, and in old aged homes
physiotherapists help the elderly person to retain or regain
Commonly asked questions about animal physiotherapy and
why to choose physiotherapy as a treatment option for
How do you
train to be an animal physiotherapist?
The first requirement for training for animal physiotherapy
is a four year human physiotherapy degree. Only when this
is completed and the registered physiotherapist has a
minimum of two years clinical human experience are they able
to treat animals. Post graduate training for this is
available through the South African Society of Physiotherapy
(SASP) or overseas through recognized animal physiotherapy
degrees and courses. Qualified physiotherapists are
required to register with the Health Professions Council of
SA (HPCSA) - so it is very important that you check that the
physiotherapist treating your animal is registered.
titles “physiotherapist”, “physical therapist” and “physio”
are protected by law and can only be used by
physiotherapists who have achieved a high level of academic
and practical training in all aspects of physiotherapy and
are therefore qualified and registered to practice.
Why choose a physiotherapist to treat your animal?
Physiotherapists have specific training in analytical and
treatment skills based on a thorough knowledge of anatomy,
physiology and biomechanics. Whether it is to increase
performance, prevent injury, enhance healing or improve
quality of life, expert physiotherapy treatment from a
registered physiotherapist can achieve remarkable results.
What does a
physiotherapist actually do?
Just as humans have benefited from physiotherapy, animals do
benefit as well. Physiotherapists assess, treat and
rehabilitate injuries to muscles, ligaments, tendons,
joints, back pain, muscle imbalances, poor performance in
sporting animals, over-use injuries, wounds and
Working on humans is an important part of preparation for
animal work, as the physiotherapist is able to develop
observational and palpating skills assisted by patients’
verbal responses and feedback.
physiotherapist’s most valuable tool is his or her hands,
for palpating (feeling) and locating areas of normal and
abnormal function on the horse’s body. The
physiotherapist’s knowledge and understanding of anatomy,
biomechanics, veterinary and physiotherapeutic procedures,
neurophysiology and rehabilitation form a strong foundation
for assessment and treatment.
physiotherapy help my animal?
The answer to that is yes.
Physiotherapy accelerates the healing process, relieves
pain, and restores normal movement and function.
Physiotherapists are rehabilitation specialists and can
assist in fitness training and specific exercise programmes.
All types of animals are referred by
veterinary surgeons for physiotherapy treatment, including
professional and working animals, e.g. race horses, show
jumpers, competitive dogs and also domestic pets including
cats and dogs. Other animals such as donkeys, monkeys,
cattle, goats, parrots and ducks have been treated
successfully with physiotherapy for a variety of problems.
What kind of
physiotherapy treatments can be done on animals?
The physiotherapist will initially assess your animal to
establish problem areas of function. This is essential
before planning the treatment. Treatments may include a
combination of techniques and modalities such as:
Manual therapies -
techniques - specific massage, myofascial release,
trigger point therapy
ultrasound, laser/light therapy, muscle stimulation,
TENS, electromagnetic therapy
Hydrotherapy – in a
Hot and cold
training - sensory integration techniques
orthotic devices - support splints, walking
harnesses/wheels, dog ramps, etc
(post-surgical) to owners on how to manage home care and
exercise – written protocols, etc
Physiotherapists can also give advice on adaptations to your
animals' environment that will help them perform tasks more
easily. This can be especially helpful for elderly animals.
Physiotherapists work in consultation with the veterinary
profession to ensure the best possible treatment outcome.