I have had three different main jobs in my life and yet none of them were something that I had aspired to; I just happened to be in the right place at the right time for those careers and I enjoyed them all.

One girl who knew what she wanted to do from an early age and went after her dream is my daughter’s friend Sara. When she was little, Sara wanted to be an astronaut or a pilot, but she soon realised this would be difficult to achieve. When she was 14 and it was time to decide what subjects to study at school, Sara decided that she wanted to be a physiotherapist.

Sara is one of the kindest, gentlest, caring persons I have ever met, and she is so suited to her chosen profession.

My experiences of physiotherapy sessions (not with Sara) involved spending 15 minutes alone in a cubicle on a TENS machine – 10 minutes of exercises and a five-minute massage, all of which I could probably have done at home just as effectively.

The physiotherapist had to treat various people at the same time, with time constraints, which must make it hard for them to do their job to the best of their abilities, as they pop in and out the cubicle. This is what makes Sara different. She spends at least an hour per session on one patient, at the Fisioviver physiotherapy clinic in Albufeira, which allows her to work out a personalised treatment plan for each patient and to follow it through to completion.

Cardio Respiratory Physiotherapy patients have increased due to Covid
Cardio Respiratory Physiotherapy patients have increased due to Covid

Sara graduated from the Piaget centre in Silves in 2020, after a four-year course, and suddenly found herself in the middle of a pandemic where her first internship was to assist severely ill patients intubated on ventilators in the hospital.

I remember at the time thinking how harrowing and distressing this must be for her, but Sara loved her job because, as she told me: “In all the chaos of the rest of the hospital, I found the intensive care ward very peaceful. It was so gratifying to be helping the patients and it was there that I developed my interest in cardio-respiratory physiotherapy. Often the patients are in a coma and so a lot of the care is ensuring they do not get bed sores by giving them massages and turning them over.

“We also check that the equipment that is keeping them alive is working correctly. As the patients began to wake up, I worked on them and then with them, teaching them how to breathe again and, due to muscle wasting, how to sit up and eventually move around, although it can often take weeks or months until they gain full mobility again. It was so rewarding seeing them getting better.”

Sara often takes additional courses to improve or specialise her knowledge and, until our chat, I had not realised that there are different areas of physiotherapy.

So, what does a physiotherapist do? A physiotherapist’s function is to assist patients to manage pain, increase their mobility and their motor function. I thought it was just for broken bones or mobility issues, but there is so much more to this profession.

Did you know that there are four distinct areas in physiotherapy?

Specialist care

Sara explained: “Musculoskeletal physiotherapy works on the bones and muscles following accidents or strokes, for back problems, traumas and limited movements. We work to teach patients how to cope with their pain, give them exercises to increase their mobility and also show them how to perform their jobs in order to avoid future damage such as for cases of repetitive strain syndrome.

“Neurological physiotherapy, which is destined to working on the nervous system, can help   stroke sufferers, people with neurodegenerative illnesses, with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer, multiple sclerosis etc. We work externally on the body, but this type of physiotherapy also includes exercises to improve the patient’s cognitive functions such as memory and attention.

“Dermatological physiotherapy is for people needing treatment for skin conditions such as scarring or following surgery, acne, eczema, circulatory problems and even for beauty reasons such as treating wrinkles or sagging skin.

“Finally, there is cardio-respiratory physiotherapy, which is my favourite, and this is for respiratory problems such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, respiratory infections, pneumonia etc.

“All of these types of physiotherapy are available at the clinic where I work and whilst I am trained in them all, I am specialising in treating patients with respiratory problems. In the last two years, I have noticed an increase in the number of children developing breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis, which I believe could be caused by the pandemic which has prevented children from fully developing their immunity systems.”

Sara has also seen her job change with more people requiring post-covid rehabilitation to increase the strength and tolerance of their lung and heart muscles damaged by the virus.

Sara likes dealing with people, especially children or the elderly, and is particularly conscious that her time with her elderly patients is not just about working on their physical recovery but that just being there to talk to them and to listen to their stories is a huge part of her job and fundamental to the patients’ recovery. “Seeing my patients improve, the evolution of their progress and knowing that I have given them a better quality of life, this is my reward and why I love the work I do.”

Whilst Sara works at the Albufeira clinic, she is also available for private treatments visiting patients in their own homes, which is particularly beneficial if the patient is unable to travel for treatments.

One day Sara would like to have her own clinic set up with her partner who is also a physiotherapist. Together they hope to provide the kind of specialist patient care that they believe patients deserve. However, much as I like Sara, I do hope I will never be in need of her services!

So now you know!

Sara speaks English and Portuguese and can be contacted on [email protected]

By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

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