How Physiotherapy Contributes to a Stronger Health Care System in Canada

When you think of physiotherapy, your mind probably conjures up an image of reducing lower back or helping people regain mobility after a broken leg.

While physiotherapy is key to addressing these issues, the practice itself addresses so much more.

In fact, experts are starting to realize just how much physiotherapy contributes to a stronger health care system in Canada.

Not only does physiotherapy offer effective treatment options but it also helps lighten the burden on Canada’s health care system by preventing hospitalization and promoting health amongst the population.

Let’s take a closer look at how physiotherapy as a primary health care service works in Canada:

Physiotherapy in Canada

Physiotherapy is a key part of all sectors of health care in Canada, from the promotion of health to rehabilitation. 

The scope of practice for physiotherapists and physical therapists varies from province to province, giving therapists responsibility for developing the scope of practice for their region.

However, in all provinces, these health care professionals are given the authority to assess physical function as well as neurological, cardiorespiratory, and musculoskeletal systems.

With the burden of chronic disease rising in Canada, especially due to the aging population, physiotherapists have an increasingly important role in promoting active lifestyles and rehabilitation.

In Canada, physical therapy has become effective in all areas of practice including home-based services, intensive care units, and emergency departments because of its ability to address conditions such as chronic lung disease, lower back pain, musculoskeletal conditions, and chronic disease.

Overall, physiotherapy can increase quality of life, improve health outcomes, and decrease hospital lengths. Therefore, they can contribute to creating a more efficient health care system by focusing on primary care, injury prevention, and rehabilitation.

Health Promotion and Prevention

More than half of Canadians live with a chronic illness and this places enormous pressure on the health care system. Many chronic diseases can be avoided and their symptoms lessened by the increase in improved physical activity and reduced sedentary behavior.

Physiotherapy also addresses the concern of health issues when it comes to seniors and daily living.

By 2036, the number of seniors in Canada is expected to rise to over 10 million and make up around one-quarter of the population by 2050. 

It’s no surprise that seniors are the most frequent and intense users of the health care system, which more than 3 out of 4 having at least one chronic condition. Because they suffer from more chronic conditions, they take more prescription and over-the-counter medications than any other age group and require ongoing treatment and management.

When it comes to healthy aging, the focus is on developing and maintaining functional abilities. Physiotherapy is one such service that can help seniors increase their well-being and encourage a healthy and active lifestyle. 

Where Can You Find Physiotherapists?

Apart from working in private practice, you can find these health care providers throughout Canada’s health care system:

Home-Based Services

Home-based physiotherapy services provide assessment and treatment for individuals in their homes for a variety of conditions including stroke and heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, and recovery from surgery.

The benefits of home-based physiotherapy services include an improvement in overall physical well-being as well as a decrease in feelings of social isolation. It also reduces the rate of rehospitalizations and the future use of health care services.

Intensive Care Units

In intensive care units, physiotherapists can focus on the early mobility of critically ill patients and the respiratory management of ventilator-dependent patients. They can assess and manage a variety of patient complications affecting the musculoskeletal, cardiorespiratory, and neurological systems.

Physiotherapists are often members of a multidisciplinary team that assist with patient positioning and mobilization. They focus on exercises that strengthen muscles, increase balance, and increase a patient’s range of motion.

Emergency Departments

Physiotherapists can also work in emergency departments, assessing the mobility and function of patients. They assess, diagnose, triage, and manage patients with musculoskeletal injuries as well as senior patients with reduced functionality.

They also improve the continuation of care by assisting with referrals and discharge plans. Their involvement in emergency departments has been shown to improve pain control, reduce short-term disability, and decrease hospital length of stay as well as wait times.

Areas of Physiotherapy Practice in Canada

Physiotherapy is effective in addressing a range of health issues:

Chronic Diseases

Physiotherapy is effective in preventing, treating, and managing chronic diseases such as COPD, Type 2 Diabetes, and obesity.

This is because physical therapists make significant contributions to self-management interventions where patients are taught how to modify their behaviors in order to address their condition.

Cardiovascular Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation is a team-based intervention that includes physical, psychosocial, and individualized exercise programs to help the patient’s outcome following a cardiac event. 

Physical therapy for cardiac rehabilitation has been proven effective in decreasing cardiovascular mortality and improving the quality of life for those with coronary heart disease. Cardiovascular exercise can also benefit stroke survivors by improving aerobic capacity and walking distance.

Neurological Conditions

Physiotherapy has been shown to be beneficial to individuals with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and schizophrenia. 

Because the prevalence of neurological conditions increases with age, as the population ages, the number of individuals facing the challenges of these conditions is expected to rise. With physiotherapy intervention, individuals are less likely to require hospitalization or additional health care.

Musculoskeletal Conditions

Musculoskeletal conditions refer to a broad range of disorders that affect the bones, joints, and connective tissue. These conditions include arthritis and osteoporosis.

Physiotherapy can help to reduce and even eliminate pain, muscle weakness, and loss of stability through assessment and treatment – and can be used as an alternative to pain medication. 

Physiotherapy: Supporting Canada’s Health Care System

Physiotherapy reduces disability, promotes recovery from injury, and reduces the risk of re-injury. It can also be helpful in enabling the early detection of acute events.

Overall, physical therapy is an integral part of interdisciplinary teams that provide intermediate care to obtain a favourable outcome for each patient. 


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