Physiotherapy in Africa: Things you should know


Physiotherapy is one of such important healthcare delivery component and in this article, we will look at some of the things that you need to know about physiotherapy as it concerns improving your health and fitness.

There are many things that comprises healthcare delivery. An effective healthcare delivery goes beyond treatment in the hospital with drugs or surgeries. In many African underdeveloped and developing countries, a large portion of the population are either ignorant or are unable to access other important complementary healthcare delivery components.

Physiotherapy, also referred to as physical therapy is a health care profession concerned with human function and movement and maximizing physical potential. It is aimed at identifying and maximizing quality of life and movement potential within the spheres of promotion, prevention, treatment/intervention, habilitation and rehabilitation.

It uses physical approaches to promote, maintain and restore physical, psychological and social well-being, taking into account variations in health status. Physiotherapy is science-based, committed to extending, applying, evaluating and reviewing the evidence that underpins and informs its practice and delivery. The exercise of clinical judgement and informed interpretation is at its core.

These scope of physiotherapy encompass physical, psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Physical therapy services are provided by physical therapists or physiotherapists to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout their lifespan.

The service is provided in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by ageing, injury, pain, diseases, disorders, conditions or environmental factors and with the understanding that functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy.


When was Physiotherapy Introduced in Nigeria?

Physicians like Hippocrates and later Galen are believed to have been the first practitioners of physical therapy, advocating massage, manual therapy techniques and hydrotherapy to treat people in 460 BC.

After the development of orthopedics in the eighteenth century, machines like the Gymnasticon were developed to treat gout and similar diseases by systematic exercise of the joints, similar to later developments in physical therapy.

Physiotherapy was introduced into Nigeria in 1945 by two British Chartered Physiotherapists: miss Manfield and Mr. Williams. They were employed by the government of Nigeria and attached to the Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos.

Their primary assignments were first, to treat wounded and disabled Nigerians soldiers who returned home from Burma and other countries during the Second World War.  Secondly, they were to start a training programme in physiotherapy. The three-year diploma course was attended by a number on Nigerians.

On completion of the training and passing out of the school, they were designated as Assistant Physiotherapist. They were specifically asked to work strictly under the supervision of Chartered Physiotherapists who had trained in England.


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What Does Physiotherapy Entail?

Physical therapy attempts to address the illnesses, or injuries that limit a person’s abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives.

Physiotherapists (PTs) use an individual’s history and physical examination to arrive at a diagnosis and establish a management plan and, when necessary, incorporate the results of laboratory and imaging studies like X-rays, CT-scan, or MRI findings.

Electrodiagnostic testing (e.g., electromyograms and nerve conduction velocity testing) may also be used. PT management commonly includes prescription of or assistance with specific exercises, manual therapy and manipulation, mechanical devices such as traction, education, physical agents which includes heat, cold, electricity, sound waves, radiation, assistive devices, prostheses, orthoses and other interventions.

In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles, providing services to individuals and populations to develop, maintain and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan.

This includes providing therapeutic treatment in circumstances where movement and function are threatened by aging, injury, disease or environmental factors. Functional movement is central to what it means to be healthy.


Who is a Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is a health care professional who helps patients achieve maximum range of movement and physical ability, either by developing it in the first place or restoring it after loss of physical ability due to illness, injury or aging.


What Does a Physiotherapist Do?

When taking on a new patient, a physiotherapist will take his/her health history and perform a physical examination. He will then develop a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs. Some of the treatments that physiotherapists use are as follows;

  • Massage to ease soft tissue pain.
  • Mobilization or manipulation of joints.
  • Exercises to strengthen weak areas.
  • Cold to reduce inflammation.
  • Heat to increase circulation.
  • Ultrasound therapy to ease muscle spasms.
  • Electrical stimulation to help muscles contract that cannot do so effectively on their own.
  • Physiotherapists do not just work with people after an injury, but can be found working in many fields of specialty.


Who Needs a Physiotherapist?

Your experience with a physiotherapist varies depending on where you go, but overall, a physiotherapist provides rehabilitation, education and support, performance training, as well as assisting with stress relief in many aspects of your life.

Many physiotherapists have different certifications so it is important to search around for a physiotherapist who may best be able to assist with your problem.

In actual sense everyone needs a physiotherapist, not necessarily because there’s an injury but also to prevent certain disease conditions through postural education, stretching and flexibility.

Also, physiotherapy services covers alleviating generalized pain, help you heal from a complicated surgical procedure, managing your disease, managing a physical limitation, healing from joint replacement surgeries, postpartum exercise conditioning, relaxation techniques and full body massage.

After taking a look at some of the services a physiotherapist can provide across many different aspects of health, you should have a good idea as to why it is important to your overall wellness to see a physiotherapist. Yes, a physiotherapist is an expert in healing injuries, but there is much more that a physio can offer.


How Do I Access a Physiotherapist?

A number of options are available to see a physiotherapist

  • By getting a referral from a doctor.
  • By contacting a physiotherapist directly.
  • Private physiotherapy clinics.
  • Occupational health services.
  • Teaching hospitals and Medical centres.
  • Physiotherapy can also sometimes be accessed through occupational health services, charities, patient groups and the voluntary sector.
  • You can also use the Find a physio search facility




  •  WCPT –  Policy statement: Description of physical therapy.  Accessed 01/06/2019
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy – “What is Physiotherapy?”.   Accessed 01/06/2019
  • NHD-uk – physiotherapy –  Accessed 05/06/2019
  • Wharton M. A. Health Care Systems I, Slippery Rock University. 1991.
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. “History of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy”. Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.
  • Knox, Bruce (29 January 2007). “History of the School of Physiotherapy”. School of Physiotherapy Centre for Physiotherapy Research. University of Otago.

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