A physiotherapist is a healthcare professional whose work is directed to the improved movement and function of persons who have sustained a musculoskeletal injury. The physiotherapist is most often a part of a larger healthcare team, as physiotherapists work closely with the physicians who provide a diagnosis with respect to a particular physical condition, which the physiotherapists seek to either correct or improve through treatment. In a sports setting, physiotherapists work closely with athletic trainers and sport coaches to assist injured athletes.
The general role of the physiotherapist is the treatment of physical disorders through the manipulation of the joints and other components of the musculoskeletal system. Physiotherapy is now recognized as a distinct branch of the medical sciences. In most countries, the academic training required for a career in physiotherapy is a course of university study, where the physiotherapy school is most often affiliated with a medical faculty. The chief components of a physiotherapy curriculum are biology (including anatomy and kinesiology), psychology, biomechanics, and pharmacology (the study of how drugs interact with bodily function). In many jurisdictions, physiotherapy is a freestanding and accredited profession, with independent control over its membership regarding licensing, education, and professional standards.
In a sports setting—particularly with respect to elite competitive programs—the physiotherapist plays a key role with respect to the development of preseason training programs, especially for those athletes who have previously sustained a particular injury, as well as acting as an ongoing training and educational resource for athletes and coaches. High-level athletes, in conjunction with their coaches, will develop a year-long segmented training regimen, a process often referred to as the periodization of training; the physiotherapist will often have significant input as to how the periods should be structured.
The role of the physiotherapist is also vital in terms of collecting data about a recovering athlete regarding performance and the ability of the athlete to achieve defined results during rehabilitation. The overriding objective of the physiotherapist extends beyond the recovery of the athlete into the broader concepts of restoration of physical health and the prevention of a similar occurrence. The progress made in the athlete's rehabilitation will often dictate what other professional steps are taken to preserve recovery, such as the use and design of orthotics or other protective equipment.