The future of physical therapy

With the hyper-accelerated boom of the health and fitness industry in the last decade, it has never been a more exciting time for physiotherapy as a profession and healthcare service to the general public. Millennials and Baby boomers alike are subscribing to the ever-increasing health and fitness wave, joining more gyms, joining more sports, adopting healthier lifestyles and diets and more outdoor recreational activities/hobbies.

As a result of this increased interest in the health and wellbeing of our bodies, we have seen the amount of physiotherapy and allied health clinics surge and many different gyms providing daily classes and challenges are almost everywhere you look. Thus, the need for physiotherapy services is increasing in demand; people requiring injury diagnoses, injury prevention education, injury rehabilitation, return to sport/work management, pain management and the list goes on.

It’s no overstatement to say the future is looking bright for physiotherapy as a profession. A contribution to this would be the above list of reasons, as society continues to visit a physiotherapist for their mobility-related needs. Healthcare in general is benefiting from physiotherapy referrals, easing socioeconomic health burdens, as physiotherapists become the number one referral for General Practitioners. In contrast, there would have been a time where all we were known for was providing a good old massage or poke and prod to ‘fix’ issues. This is still a conception for some, but it’s (thankfully) shifting. Musculoskeletal health is complex, and so is the recovery.

So, what does the future of physiotherapy look like? Where is it headed, and should we continue to subscribe to it as a healthcare option? Let’s take a look…

1. A paradigm shift from passive to active therapies

Let’s start off with the elephant in the room: Massage and hands on treatment as the prime modality of choice by physiotherapists. While there’s no argument that these options of treatment don’t have their place in many physiotherapy consultations, it is not the sole method of treatment nor should it always be expected. This is especially true if you have a friend who claims to have had success with physiotherapy in the past because of manual (passive) therapy; past performance is not an indicator of future performance!

We expect that with the ever-growing amount of evidence in support of active therapies (such as exercise) being used to treat and manage pain more effectively, we will see a greater shift in the prescription of these therapies than passive treatments. In turn, physiotherapy clinics will be structured and designed in a way that better allows for this to take place. This will most likely look like most, if not all, physiotherapy clinics having a significant gym/exercise rehabilitation space as part of their facility, perhaps even a hydrotherapy pool and even the designation of private treating rooms. We might even see the death of the adjoining curtained cubicles, which certainly will reduce patient comradery, but at the reward of improved privacy!

It must be noted that this shift is already beginning to take place, and this is really encouraging and exciting for physiotherapists and patients alike, as it means we are growing in our knowledge of effective and evidence based treatments we can use to help YOU! 

2. The Biopsychosocial model: A better structure to help manage pain

This second point isn’t far off the first in that we expect the physiotherapists of the future will look to more effective and efficient ways of assessing, treating and managing the myriad of conditions, injuries, pain and disorders of our patients. It is not in our patients’ best interests to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment or the provision of whacky non-evidence-based treatment modalities. Future physiotherapists must continue to strive towards better multi-faceted approaches to treatment and better outcomes for our patients.

We expect, in future, that more physiotherapists will be looking to assess all aspects of the patient in front of them in order to determine the most appropriate and evidence-based treatment options for them. To do this, physiotherapists should adopt the biopsychosocial (BPS) model; thankfully it now forms a strong portion of undergraduate study. We acknowledge this is emerging in practice today, however, we expect a greater shift towards using this model and approach in treating (perhaps as the’ old guard’ hang up the boots). 

The BPS model is commonly used in chronic pain with the view that to understand a person’s medical condition or pain, it is not simply the biological factors to consider, but also the psychological and social factors. It acknowledges that pain is so multifactorial, humans are such complex beings and that the journey to understanding pain and finding solutions to help bring people back to function cannot be a single path.


Biopsychosocial Model of Health
Image <a href=httpsenwikipediaorgwikiBiopsychosocial modelmediaFileBiopsychosocial Model of Health 1png>Wikipedia<a>

The BPS model guides therapists to explore the many, many factors that could be contributing to their condition/pain and in doing so, provide many avenues/modalities of treatment that can be available to help manage and/or rehabilitate people from their pain states.

What this may practically look like in future could be that physiotherapists incorporate more multidisciplinary involvement in their process of finding suitable treatment and management options for patients. Professionals such as exercise physiologists, psychologists, social workers, dietitians, etc. may feature in physiotherapy clinics for easy referral. This is what is termed an “allied health clinic”, and is the model adopted by Sycamore Health. For example, in your assessment your physiotherapist identifies some psychosocial factors that may be a large contributing factor to why you are not progressing in your recovery/management of pain. They then point this out to you and make the appropriate referrals onwards (possibly just a door or two down the hall) and you are already on your way to receiving a more comprehensive healthcare experience!

3. Hybrid care

Telehealth enabled many people to continue accessing healthcare during the pandemic. It’s been an interesting scope for change in healthcare and we’ll never rewind the clock to the old days where you could only receive care by rocking up to a clinic in person.

Going forward, we’re likely to see more care delivered in a hybrid model where some of your treatment is provided in person and some of it happens virtually. This is especially the case for health professions like dieticians, psychologists, psychiatrists as well as GPs. There is space for physiotherapists and exercise physiologists to utilise telehealth consults, however, in some cases it is hard to provide the best care if hands-on treatment is required or live supervision of exercise prescription.

Some telehealth platforms are now incorporating artificial intelligence to map your movement patterns, enabling us to do more than ever before through virtual care. There is also a shift towards using online exercise prescription and tracking tools instead of providing hard copy sheets of exercises and this space can only continue to grow in how it serves our patients.

4. Wellness, injury prevention and healthy lifestyle focus

When thought of, the need for physiotherapy may be more commonly linked to acute injury management, disease/condition rehabilitation and chronic pain management. However, we believe there is also a future for physiotherapy to begin to take a stronger position in injury/disease/condition prevention.

We expect physiotherapy may begin to undergo a large rebranding where more focus will be on the consumer’s health and wellbeing rather than focusing on the episodic treatment of disease or injury. It may be common tongue to see your physiotherapist like you do your personal trainer (a little bit like a musculoskeletal life coach). Services provided are likely to include advice on general health, lifestyle, diet and exercise, prescription of exercise programs focused on health optimisation as part of a person’s regular routine rather than rehabilitation and health coaching that encourages personal goal setting and self-management.

What’s Sycamore’s role in all this?

We aren’t the type to get left behind and we certainly don’t want our patients to be either. We’re a forward-thinking practice at the cutting edge of new physiotherapy treatments/approaches and technological developments. We want to learn from the past and build a better future in healthcare that optimises the way people see their health and wellbeing. Some of the treating styles at Sycamore Health represent this future-trend in healthcare, focusing on the biopsychosocial approach, as well as private rooms and onsite gyms/rehabilitation equipment. We’re excited about the future, and we look forward to helping you on your health journey in new and greater ways!

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All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.

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