Text: Roland Paillex
Photo: Philippe Gétaz

Physiotherapy, the great unknown by Roland Paillex

Roland Paillex is Head Physiotherapist at the Lausanne University Hospital

When you ask people what they think physiotherapy involves, the first answer that comes up is massage. If you dig a bit deeper, you hear that physiotherapists help people who have had accidents, such as sprains or fractures, get back on their feet. But these answers represent only a small part of what physiotherapists actually do.

Physiotherapy is one of the three pillars of traditional medicine, alongside the work of doctors and nurses. For the patients we care for, physiotherapy offers new possibilities, improves their quality of life and increases their well-being regardless of their age. It identifies and maximises their potential for mobility. It can also treat pain. Physiotherapy handles both acute and chronic problems and applies to health prevention and promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.

Physiotherapy offers solutions for children, teenagers, adults and the elderly to help them work around their limitations and obstacles to movement or function (as a result of an illness, accident or ill-adapted behaviour) and overcome the challenges they face. In its approach, physiotherapy promotes “health” as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO): “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

For example, a stroke victim can practise walking with a physiotherapist. A patient who has had a heart attack can be trained to regain endurance. Those suffering from respiratory failure will be taught how to improve their pulmonary function by repeating the appropriate exercises. An elderly person who falls regularly will be stimulated to get back up on their own and develop strength in their legs and their balance.

Physiotherapists deal with issues involving pulmonology, cardiology, lymphatic circulation, the pelvic floor, rheumatology, orthopaedics, traumatology, sports medicine, psychiatry, paediatric neurology, geriatrics and ergonomics.

It is important for the Swiss to better understand all aspects of physiotherapy in order to be able to discuss it with their doctor if they feel that a physiotherapist could improve their well-being.