Jean Dominique Bauby former editor of French Elle magazine, stroke victim and author of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” – his autobiographical account of living with locked-in syndrome – scoffed at the term mobilisation – a word used by physiotherapists to describe walking, ambulation or movement more generally.  How could a term, with it’s connotations of grand military manoeuvres, ever befit the paltry efforts of an almost bed-bound stroke victim to move his limbs?  He found the description completely inappropriate.

Appropriate or otherwise in its description, mobilisation is a key treatment technique for chartered physiotherapists.  Whether it’s immediately post-operatively, following a stroke, or in the treatment of an acute musculoskeletal injury physiotherapists have a desire to get you moving.  It stands to reason, notwithstanding Mr. Bauby’s distaste of the word, that movement, walking and exercise can help you to recover and return to normal quicker.  Moreover there are huge proven benefits to being active as early as possible after surgery for example, where early mobilisation is known to decrease the likelihood of post-operative infections.  This is one situation in which you’re likely to encounter a physiotherapist in a hospital setting making you get up and get moving.

Similarly following stroke or brain injury, a physio will assess you and, if you’re capable of it, will very often get you up and moving day one or two after you’ve arrived at hospital.  If we think of rehabilitation as restoring your previous level of functional ability it makes sense that if we can get you back walking as early as possible then that’s a giant stride towards your goal.

Physiotherapists also use the term mobilisation to describe an aspect of the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries.  In the past acute ankle sprains, for example, where heavily strapped and patients were often given non-weight bearing status and advised to use crutches for a period.  Thankfully we now know that early mobilisation and immediate weight bearing with such injuries leads to a much quicker recovery and much less complications and muscle wastage in the long run.

So, whether you’re a hospital inpatient or attending physiotherapy as an outpatient for a musculoskeletal injury, your physiotherapist is more than likely going to be getting you to mobilise, and while doing so you can now debate the appropriateness of the term which failed monsieur Bauby.