Physiotherapists help patients with physical difficulties resulting from illness, injury, disability or ageing to restore and maximise their movement and reduce the risk of further problems arising in the future
As a physiotherapist you'll meet with patients to assess their physical problem/disorder. Having made a diagnosis, you'll then design and review appropriate treatment programmes using a range of techniques, including manual therapy, therapeutic exercise and electrotherapy.
As well as treating patients, you'll also promote their health and wellbeing, and provide education and advice on how to avoid injury and self-manage long-term conditions.
Patients can include children, the elderly, people with sports injuries, intensive care patients who require chest physiotherapy and stroke patients.
Types of physiotherapist
There are many clinical specialties and sub-specialties within physiotherapy, which have grown over time. These include:
- cardiovascular - includes chronic heart disease and rehabilitation after a heart attack
- geriatric - focusing on older adults
- men's and women's health - includes conditions related to the reproductive system, childbirth, prenatal and postnatal care
- neurology - includes multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and stroke patients
- neuromusculoskeletal - includes arthritis, back pain, sports injuries and whiplash
- paediatrics - treatment of infants, children and young people
- respiratory - includes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cystic fibrosis.
Other areas include learning disabilities, mental health, oncology and palliative care.
There are also generalist roles available where physiotherapists treat patients with several co-existing, long-term conditions and complex needs.
As a physiotherapist, you'll need to:
- work with patients who have a range of conditions, including neurological, neuromusculoskeletal, cardiovascular and respiratory, sometimes over a period of weeks or months
- make a clinical assessment and diagnosis in order to treat their physical problem/condition
- design and review clinical management plans that encourage exercise and movement by the use of a range of techniques, and which may include specialist rehabilitation, life-style medicine, long-term strategies, and clinical techniques
- involve parents and carers in the treatment, review and rehabilitation of patients
- educate patients and their carers about how to prevent and/or improve conditions
- empower patients, through education and advice, to take control of their own care
- write patient case notes and reports, and collect statistics
- liaise with other healthcare professionals, such as GPs, consultants, occupational therapists and social workers, to exchange information about the background and progress of patients, as well as to refer patients who require other medical attention
- keep up to date with new techniques and technologies available for treating patients
- supervise student and junior physiotherapists and physiotherapy support workers
- be legally responsible and accountable
- be caring, compassionate and professional at all times
- manage clinical risk.
- Jobs in the NHS consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay rates. Starting salaries for qualified physiotherapists (Band 5) range from £27,055 to £32,934. Senior physiotherapists can earn between £33,706 and £40,588 (Band 6).
- As a clinical specialist/team leader, you can earn between £41,659 and £47,672 (Band 7).
- Salaries for advanced clinical practice, extended scope or clinical lead physiotherapists are around £48,526 to £54,619 (Band 8a), rising to between £56,164 and £65,262 (Band 8b) for consultant physiotherapist roles.
- Salaries can rise to in excess of £67,064 (Band 8c) for management roles such as head of service. Those working in London and the surrounding areas may receive a high-cost area supplement of between 5% and 20% of their basic salary.
Salaries and conditions outside the NHS vary, although the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) recommends that all physiotherapists should receive at least the same pay and terms and conditions of employment as those in the NHS. This may not, however, be possible in all cases, although you should use the NHS pay rates as a guide when negotiating your salary.
Salaries in private practice depend on what you are able to charge and how successful you are. Factors affecting what you can charge include your location, experience and reputation, and any specialist skills you have. You also need to take into account factors such as the time and costs involved in setting up a practice.
It's also possible to combine NHS work with private work. Experienced physiotherapists may combine clinical work, university lecturing and research.
Income figures are intended as a guide only. Check AfC pay rates for the most up-to-date NHS salary details.
Physiotherapists typically work 37.5 hours a week, which may include evenings, nights and weekends.
As a sports physiotherapist you're likely to work at the weekend, and in private practice your hours will reflect the needs of your clients.
Locum and part-time work opportunities are also available.
What to expect
- The work may be physically demanding, with busy caseloads. Although patients' problems may be complex, physiotherapy can be a very rewarding job.
- As a physiotherapist, you're under contractual obligation to maintain patient confidentiality.
- If employed by the NHS, you may be based in hospitals, health centres, clinics or GP surgeries. Physiotherapists working in the community may need to visit patients in their own homes. You may have to travel between appointments if working in the community.
- Self-employment and private practice work is common.
- There may be opportunities to work abroad to further your experience. Do your research and check whether registration is in operation in the country you want to work in.
To practise as a chartered physiotherapist you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). To achieve this, you must successfully complete either an undergraduate or an accelerated postgraduate degree course in physiotherapy approved by the HCPC. All degree courses also hold Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) accreditation.
For a place on a full-time undergraduate course, lasting three years (four in Scotland), you'll typically need two or three good A-levels (or equivalent), including a biological science (biology or human biology) and/or PE. You'll also need a minimum of five GCSE passes at level 4/grade C or above, including maths, English language and sciences.
Part-time courses are available at several universities, although some of these are aimed at physiotherapist support workers, already working in a healthcare setting, who want to become chartered physiotherapists. Courses typically last between four and six years.
You can also take an HCPC-accredited degree apprenticeship, which combines work-based learning modules and specialist education. Search for apprenticeship vacancies with a healthcare provider on the Find an Apprenticeship and NHS Jobs websites.
To be accepted onto the two-year accelerated postgraduate course, you'll usually need a 2:1 degree or above in a subject such as biological sciences, psychology, physiology, sports science, sports therapy or rehabilitation, and nursing. Both routes include a mix of theory and practical training.
For a list of accredited undergraduate, degree apprenticeship and postgraduate courses, see CSP Physiotherapy degrees. Entry requirements vary between courses, so check with the course provider for exact details.
You will also need to complete a health screening by Occupational Health and a criminal records check.
All eligible pre-registration undergraduate and postgraduate physiotherapy students studying in England can receive funding support of at least £5,000 per year. You don't have to pay it back and are still able to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company. For more information, see Health Careers.
For details of financial support available to students in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, see:
- Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
- Student Awards Services (Wales)
- Northern Ireland Direct Government services
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- interpersonal skills to establish a rapport with patients and their families
- the ability to explain treatments simply to patients and their families
- teamwork skills to collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, occupational therapists and social workers
- good manual skills and the ability to move equipment
- problem-solving ability
- tolerance, patience, sensitivity and tact
- organisation and administrative skills
- a firm but encouraging and empathetic attitude
- the ability to motivate others in order to get them to engage with their own care
- a genuine concern for the wellbeing and health of patients
- a real interest in anatomy and physiology
- the ability to work under pressure and manage your time effectively
- IT skills
- a flexible approach to work.
You'll also need business skills if working in private practice.
Employers want to see that you've researched the profession and have a good understanding of the role. Try to visit a local physiotherapy department and ask to shadow a physiotherapist to get an idea of what the work is like and whether it would suit you.
It's also useful to get some voluntary or paid experience in a health or care setting to show your interest in the area and your ability to communicate with a range of different people. There may be opportunities with private physiotherapy clinics, sports clinics, football clubs, special schools and units, and nursing homes.
Voluntary work for charities such as the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance or the MS Society may also be valuable when applying for jobs.
Working as a physiotherapy support worker provides a valuable insight into the role and shows your commitment.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
You can work in a range of settings including the:
- public sector - public services and enterprises such as the NHS
- private sector
- third sector - includes charities, and voluntary and community groups.
The NHS is the major employer of physiotherapists. Your skills are needed in most departments, such as:
- elderly care
- intensive care
- mental health
- occupational health
- outpatients' departments
- stroke services
- women's health.
You may also work in the community, for local authorities or the private sector in:
- private hospitals and clinics
- GP practices and health centres
- schools and children's centres
- nursing and care homes, and day centres for elderly people
- charities and voluntary organisations, particularly those serving people with disabilities
- sports clinics, professional sports clubs, gyms and leisure centres
- the armed services.
Some physiotherapists work in a variety of settings. For example, you may work part time at a sports injury clinic and have another part-time post with an NHS or private hospital.
Once you have enough experience you could also open your own practice.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Health Jobs UK
- Jobs.hscni.net - health and social care jobs in Northern Ireland.
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales.
- NHSScotland Jobs
- Physiotherapy Jobs
Once qualified, you're likely to receive clinical supervision on the job and mentoring support. You'll be encouraged to develop your knowledge and skills by attending briefing sessions, short courses and reflective practice programmes. This contributes to your continuing professional development (CPD), which is a requirement of continued registration with the HCPC.
In Scotland, newly qualified physiotherapists can access Flying Start NHS. This programme supports your learning during your first year of practice in NHS Scotland.
Membership of the CSP provides access to advice and career development opportunities, as well as the chance to network with colleagues. The CSP lists details of post-qualifying courses and events. These can range from short one-day courses to postgraduate certificates, diplomas and MSc qualifications in areas such as advanced physiotherapy, manual therapy and sports therapy.
It's also possible, once you have at least two years' experience and are in a role with leadership responsibilities or opportunities, to take the CSP Leadership Development Programme to help develop your leadership skills.
If you're working in private practice, you may want to join Physio First, which provides a range of events, resources and business advice.
With experience, there are opportunities to undertake further training in areas such as injection therapy and supplementary or independent prescribing. In order to prescribe, you must successfully complete an HCPC-approved training programme in prescribing and have an annotation (mark) on your record on the HCPC register. You can then prescribe all licensed medicines that are within the scope of physiotherapy prescribing practice. For more information, see the CSP - Medicine use in physiotherapy practice.
Once you've gained experience, through clinical practice and further training, you may be able to move in to an advanced practice role. It’s also possible for experienced clinicians to take an Advanced Clinical Practitioner apprenticeship (England), which combines work with an MSc in Advanced Clinical Practice. Once you’re working as an advanced practice physiotherapist, you can join the CSP Advanced Practice Physiotherapy Network (APPN).
If you're working in an NHS hospital, there's a defined career structure. You may begin in a rotational role, working in different departments to get more experience in different specialties, e.g. outpatients and orthopaedics.
Following this initial clinical experience, you may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as neurology, sports injuries or critical care or with particular types of patient, such as the elderly, children or cancer patients.
As you gain experience, there are opportunities to work your way up the grading structure into senior physiotherapist and clinical specialist/team leader positions.
With further clinical experience and training, you can progress into advanced clinical practice and consultant roles with a high degree of autonomy. You'll often work in specialist consultant clinics, where you'll assess, manage and list patients for surgical/medical procedures on behalf of orthopaedic consultants, spinal consultants, rheumatology consultants or medical consultants (if ward-based). For consultant roles, you'll need substantial clinical and leadership experience.
There are also some opportunities to move into a management post within physiotherapy services, with responsibility for strategy, budgets and staff, or into general health service management. Other options for career development include teaching, training or research.