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Physiotherapy and Mental Health: How Do They Interconnect?

The medical field of physiotherapy is often associated with physical activity professionals who help patients with limb injuries or stroke patients to recover mobility and efficient use of their limbs. Indeed, physiotherapy is an effective treatment procedure for physical injuries but it is also quite effective in healing troubled emotions in mental patients. Physiotherapy is a time tested therapy with a positive impact on a patient’s physical and emotional health. So how is physiotherapy connected to mental health?

There are many forms of mental health disorders ranging from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic disorders, and dementia to a host of problems triggered by lifestyle and individual causes such as job loss, bereavement, heartbreaks, and other stressful conditions. Mental health problems can also result from alcohol and drug abuse, illness, or disability. Regardless of the cause, the most common symptoms of mental health include low self-esteem, mood swings, and development of antisocial behavior. Research shows that regular physiotherapy exercises help to uplift the mood and self-esteem of a mental health patient.

Physiotherapists are highly trained in assessing patients and devising safe and enjoyable exercise programs that help patients improve their physical and mental well-being. Physiotherapists can also help people with mental disorders to alleviate psychosomatic symptoms through massage and other relaxation techniques.

Physiotherapy: Movement and Function Therapy

Physiotherapists are experts in movement and function therapy.

Movement, in this case, refers to the motion of:

  • A joint such as wrist, elbow, knee, or hip
  • An entire limb such as the arm or leg
  • A segment of the body such as the head, neck, or trunk movement necessary for breathing and other bodily activities.
  • The entire body such as walking and getting from one position to another.

Physiotherapists help patients affected by traumatic injuries, illness, and any other cause of disability that results in loss of movement. They are physical therapy experts who rely on physical exercise, massage, and other forms of therapeutic exercises to help patients recover loss of motion. They also provide patients with education, advice, and motivation to overcome physical and mental challenges.

A physiotherapist helps a wide range of patients including the following:

  • Patients with neurological problems that deal with the functioning of the brain and nerves. Neurological problems include stroke, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Chronic pain such as sports injuries, back pain, and arthritis. If not addressed, chronic pain causes both physical and emotional stress which can affect the victim’s mental well being in the long run.
  • Rehabilitation therapy after a heart attack
  • Breathing problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis.

Physiotherapists use both alternative and complementary treatment procedures including acupuncture and reflex therapy. Those working in mental health facilities have additional skills and knowledge to help patients with mental health problems. They are well trained in cognitive and behavioral therapy. They can adapt physiotherapy assessment and treatment procedures to suit the needs of a patient with mental illness or learning disability.

How Does a Physiotherapist Help a Mental Illness Patient?

A physiotherapist can assist a patient with mental health problems to achieve the following:

  • Develop an ability to handle underlying physical conditions
  • Learn how to manage physical and emotional pain
  • Manage anxiety through relaxation and breathing exercises
  • Develop a healthy lifestyle, especially in patients suffering from mental ill-health due to substance abuse.

Physiotherapy Benefits to the Body and Mind

There are several ways physiotherapy helps people with emotional and mental problems. Here are some of the key benefits of physiotherapy to a person’s mental well-being.

Mood Uplifting

The Physio Company states that regular exercises have a positive effect on a person’s mood and self-esteem. Physiotherapists are experts in creating developing therapy plans that exercise and strengthen the physical body. Exercising requires physical exertion which is known to uplift the mood of a patient struggling with a condition that suppresses emotions and dampens self-esteem.

Increasing Self-Confidence

People struggling with mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety often suffer due to loss of self-confidence. Physiotherapists help patients to set and achieve realistic goals. They help and encourage patients to meet the set goals, and in the process, boost the patients’ morale. Many mental health patients have discovered that they are capable of achieving more than they thought possible with the help of physiotherapy. A sense of capability boosts confidence and promotes a patient’s mental health.

Reduced Chronic Pain

Chronic physical pain is known to cause mental distress especially when it occurs for a long time. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can result from other physical health problems including chronic pain and discomfort. Elimination of chronic pain is a major focus of physiotherapy. When physical pain is reduced or completely eliminated, patients experience reduced emotional duress.

 

Recognizing the Connection Between Physiotherapy and Mental Health

Mental health and substance abuse treatment centers are increasingly using physiotherapy to ease troubled minds. Health professionals are turning to physiotherapy as an effective therapy for a wide range of mental problems such as personality disorders, eating disorders, traumatic stress disorders, psychosomatic disorders, dissociative disorders, substance abuse, and lifestyle disorders. A good example of physiotherapists actively engaged in emotional and mental health is the International Organization of Physical Therapists in Mental Health (IOPMH). The organization upholds the belief that physical therapy plays a key role in combating health problems across the world. IOPMH promotes actions and research on the unity of the body and mind.

Conclusion

Physical and mental states of well-being are inseparable. An individual struggling with mental health issues normally suffers from a wide range of physical discomforts and pain, which are mainly side effects of psychotropic medications and a poor lifestyle. Physiotherapy provides a holistic therapy that heals physical discomforts by addressing the mental and emotional state of health.

Physiotherapists have specialist knowledge and techniques to support social independence, manage depression, stress, or anxiety, and develop a healthier lifestyle. Physiotherapy is one of the few professionals which provide both physical and mental training to address the physical and emotional needs of patients.

Author Bio:

Russell Thompson is the owner and principal physiotherapist of Wyndham Physio and Rehabilitation, a physiotherapy clinic in Werribee. Practising his profession for more than 30 years, he was able to work with a variety of Olympic Athletes. His specializations include general physiotherapy, rehabilitation, and sports physiotherapy, among others.

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