What Physiotherapists Do

  • Nova Scotia Physiotherapy Association

What Physiotherapists Do

Physiotherapy is an essential healthcare profession that deals primarily with the prevention or alleviation of movement dysfunction. Physiotherapists are skilled in the assessment and management of a broad range of conditions that affect the musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems.

A physiotherapist is a university graduate of an accredited physiotherapy program, who is qualified to:

  • establish a physical diagnosis and determine a client’s movement potential;
  • plan and implement physiotherapy treatment programs, using specialized knowledge and skills in exercise prescription and hands-on techniques for the prevention and treatment of movement dysfunction; and
  • undertake related professional activities such as research, teaching, administration and consultation.

Movement dysfunction is any change in the way your body moves that limits what you want to do and how you live your life. The dysfunction may be due to pain, accident or injury, lack of activity, disease, problems that develop with aging, or psychological or social stress. A movement problem may show up as an actual or potential impairment related to the neuromuscular (nerves), musculoskeletal (muscles and joints), respiratory (lungs), or cardiovascular (heart) systems.


Physiotherapy is an important part of the Canadian and Nova Scotia healthcare system. As a part of this system, physiotherapists work closely with other health professionals, including physicians, occupational therapists, nurses, speech pathologists, social workers, respiratory therapists, and massage therapists.

A physician's referral is not required in order to see a physiotherapist, but physicians will often refer patients to physiotherapy for certain conditions. It is common for physiotherapists to treat patients who have been referred to them by a physician as well as those who come into clinics without a referral. Following a thorough assessment, a physiotherapist will design an individual treatment program that meets your needs and goals.

At its best, physiotherapy is an active partnership between patient and therapist.


Physiotherapists have

  • a detailed understanding of how the body works
  • knowledge of disease, injury, and the healing process
  • the ability to distinguish what is normal from abnormal in posture, balance, and movement.

Physiotherapists use

  • individually prescribed exercise programs to correct the causes of movement dysfunctions
  • skilled "hands on" treatments such as soft tissue mobilization, acupressure, and manipulation
  • sophisticated diagnostic and treatment equipment, including lasers, ultrasound, magnetic fields, electrical currents, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, biofeedback, as well as heat and ice to relieve pain and assist recovery
  • suitable assistive devices such as walking aids, splints, braces, orthotics, prosthetics and other therapeutic appliances to optimize mobility.

Physiotherapists treat a wide variety of conditions, including

  • back and neck pain
  • posture problems
  • joint and muscle pain
  • arthritis
  • breathing problems such as asthma and chronic bronchitis
  • joint replacement rehabilitation
  • osteoporosis
  • difficulty recovering from an illness and surgery
  • stroke and head injury
  • bladder control problems.

Physiotherapists often act as consultants to schools, governments, charities, businesses, and other organizations within the public and private sectors.

Physiotherapists may work in one or any combination of the following areas of practice:

  • Burns
  • Cardiac Rehab
  • Geriatrics
  • Home Care
  • Neurology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Paediatrics
  • Pre-Natal & Post-Natal Health
  • Pre/Post Surgical Intervention
  • Research
  • Respirology
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Sports Physiotherapy
  • Women’s Health

Physiotherapists can be found all across Nova Scotia.

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