The role of physiotherapy in public health

Physiotherapy provides services to individuals and populations to develop maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. Physiotherapy is concerned with identifying and maximising quality of life and movement potential within the spheres of promotion, prevention, treatment/intervention and rehabilitation. Public health refers to all organized measures (whether public or private) to prevent disease, promote health, and prolong life among the population as a whole.

Physiotherapy roles
So where does physiotherapy fit in public health?
The common ground between public health and physiotherapy appears to be in:
Physiotherapy has much to offer in a dynamic health care system not only in the area of rehabilitation but also in the areas of disease prevention, health promotion and education.

Non communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension have become a pandemic globally and thus a public health problem. These diseases have been associated with lifestyle choices. Evidence shows that non-invasive prevention and management strategies for example, physical activity are effective in addressing NCD. As non-invasive practitioners and experts in physical activity and exercise, physiotherapists are strategically positioned to help in the fight against NCD. Physical activity has been found to reduce mortality and morbidity in NCD.


Maintenance across the life course of healthy, age- appropriate mobility for children or adults with or without physical disability is an important aspect of public health that can be influenced by physiotherapy through:-

1. Ensuring that people of all ages live healthy, active, and productive lives with optimal function by encouraging age appropriate physical activity.
2. Assuring that the environments in which individuals and populations live and work are conducive to maintaining and improving their health.

Physiotherapists can teach people successful health behaviour and empower them to be in control of improving their quality of life through healthy practices through being part of the multi-disciplinary team in communities. Multi-disciplinary team effort which requires interdisciplinary trust and respect, effective communication, and cooperation and leadership is an effective means of reaching communities.

Through research (one of the pillars of public health), physiotherapists are able to produce epidemiological data combined with evidence supporting the effectiveness of non- invasive interventions related to physiotherapy to address health education and exercise.
Benefits of physiotherapy involvement in public health
1. Patient education and exercise are established hallmarks of physiotherapy practice and these interventions are unequivocally effective in preventing, in some cases reversing, and in managing chronic NCDs.
2. Physiotherapy has practices that are cost-effective compared with pharmacologic and surgical interventions for chronic NCDs.
3. The more professional expertise there is on the multi-disciplinary team, the more communities will benefit from a wider scope of practitioners.

In conclusion, this is only a tip of the iceberg of our role as physiotherapists in public health. It is our responsibility to be more assertive with regards to our role in public health initiatives to benefit our communities and the profession.

Written by Chido. C. Pfumojena (Physiotherapist)