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Physiotherapy – Science or Art?

Great artists have long used their talents to teach the general public about science. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar are but two examples of art that has attempted to convey scientific ideas to, and have been consumed by, the masses.

I believe that our role as physiotherapists is to do the same.

Physiotherapy is both a scientific art and an artistic science.

On the one hand, physiotherapy is a science. It is based on a body of evidence that continues to grow as we conduct more research. We use this evidence to guide our clinical decision-making.

On the other hand, physiotherapy is an art. There is an art to performing a movement assessment, an art to choosing the right exercises, and an art to delivering them in a way that engages and motivates our patients.

Our clients deserve the treatment they need, when they require it. It’s not just a matter of following procedures in order to generate efficiency. Artistic expression and communication with our clients are more important to us than rigorous scientific experiments. It necessitates inventiveness. To be a great physiotherapist, you must be able to think outside of the box. You must be able to find innovative answers for problems that your patients are experiencing.

The importance of being well-versed in science

Science has been and will continue to be an essential element. It is critical for us to understand the ins and outs of anatomy and physiology, as well as have a strong understanding of psychology, sociology, and public health.

However, the study of pain, injury, and the human body on a broader scale is undeniably incomplete. It isn’t because scientists haven’t tried. But humans are so multidimensional and have such intricate interactions with their surroundings that how can a scientific trial possibly represent a person’s life experience when everything except one variable is controlled?

The complexity of treating conditions

To succeed as healthcare professionals and prevent burnout, we need to stop thinking of ourselves as purely scientists. We need to be excited by our craft so that we can affect others to get excited, to improve their own health. We will become better practitioners when we know who we are, what we do, and why we are doing it. We will become outstanding practitioners when we understand and appreciate the complexity of the client in front of us, and that we cannot reduce them to a simple replica of a patient in a scientific study that was too oversimplified to begin with.

Tailoring treatment to the person

Lastly, we must be able to express a variety of scientific evidence, clinical experience, and a wide range of creative and innovative thinking through both our words and our hands. And this must be adjustable to each consumer’s expectations, circumstances, personalities, and life experiences. What works for one condition in one person may not work for another with the same condition.

Some physiotherapists may consider this frustrating, but personally I find it liberating. This liberation allows for our own artistic expression, our own flavour on the science we have spent years studying.

Physiotherapy at its core is art

Physiotherapy is art that exists within scientific parameters, and should be embraced this way by all physiotherapists.

Here is a quote from a great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, which summarises my feelings nicely:

“How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things with no interconnection. That is all wrong.

The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing. If he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can only follow slowly. If he does not, his science suffers.”

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