What is rehabilitation?


Rehabilitation is the process of either regaining or improving a patient’s function. Many factors may affect the outcome of rehabilitation for example the type of injury or condition the patient is suffering from.

Rehabilitation may allow a patient with serious disabilities to become more independent with activities of daily living whilst in a top athlete, rehabilitation may be necessary to compete optimally in an athletic event.

Rehabilitation should always be specific to the individual patient’s condition. One’s functional movements and postures required for activities of daily living are assessed.

Specific exercises may be prescribed to mobilise the soft tissue systems of the body such as muscles, joints, nerves and connective tissues. Other exercises are designed to improve the strength and endurance of the postural and mobilising muscles.

Exercise therapy has been shown to increase one’s functional capacity and quality of life. In the case of patients suffering from chronic cardiopulmonary conditions such as emphysema there is research evidence to show that participating in an appropriately designed rehabilitation programme can lead to a decrease in the frequency of admissions to hospital and total number of days spent in hospital per admission.

Rehabilitation also entails advising and educating the patient and/or family about the patient’s condition so that they have better control of their condition and can facilitate their own progress.


  • Assess, treat and restore normal function or minimise dysfunction in adults and children.
  • Enable children and adults with physical impairment to achieve their highest possible level of independence.
  • Empower patients to manage their own conditions through education and advice.
  • Decrease the risk of recurring injuries and disability in the workplace, at home, or during recreational activities through rehabilitation, education and advice.
  • Promote community health for all age groups.

What do physiotherapists use to achieve this?

They :

  • carry out a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s condition.
  • use their skilled hands for therapies such as mobilisation, manipulation and massage
  • design appropriate exercise programmes to complement the aims of their treatment
  • Decrease the risk of recurring injuries and disability in the workplace, at home, or during recreational activities through rehabilitation, education and advice.
  • use walking aids, splints and appliances, taping, electrotherapy equipment, heat, ice and traction appropriately to relieve pain, and assist healing and recovery.

Scope of practice

Physiotherapists are involved in a wide variety of fields such as orthopaedics (neuromusculoskeletal conditions), sport, cardiopulmonary, intensive care, paediatrics, neurology, geriatrics, urology and gynaecology.

Education and training


Physiotherapists in South Africa undergo an intensive 4-year university degree. Physiotherapists are required to complete a year of community service prior to final registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Master and Professor of Science in Physiotherapy degrees are offered at some of our universities.

To maintain high standards of service, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) requires physiotherapists to earn continuing education units on a regular basis. These units are attained by attending accredited tutorials, lectures, courses, seminars and congresses. At present the HPCSA does not recognise physiotherapists as specialists in different fields of practise but some physiotherapists have chosen to concentrate on specific areas of interest and have developed their professional competence in these specific fields.

The South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) has 11 special interest groups. These groups all offer continued professional development activities. The following groups offer Advanced Professional Development Level 2 (APDL2) courses: Orthopaedic Manipulative Physiotherapy Group, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Group, Sport Physiotherapy Group, Pain Management Physiotherapy Group and Women’s Health Physiotherapy Group.