The Industry's Taboo Subject: Why 50% of all Physiotherapists Experience Burnout



Physiotherapists are indispensable in our healthcare system, but their demanding work often leads to burnout all too often. The physical and emotional pressure can quickly become too much, and it can be difficult to know where to turn.

In the following article, we will discuss the causes and effects of burnout and provide you with practical advice on how to prevent and cope with burnout.


Here's what this blog article covers:

  1. What is Burnout?What Causes Burnout?
    1. Definition of Burnout
    2. Prevalence among Physiotherapists
    3. Signs and Symptoms
    4. Diagnosis
  2. How Do I Prevent Burnout?
  3. I'm Experiencing Burnout - What Now?
  4. A Personal Account
  5. Conclusion


1. What is Burnout?

Physiotherapists are true heroes of the healthcare industry, performing invaluable work every day to help people suffering from physical injuries or illnesses. However, the demands of this challenging profession can often take their toll and negatively impact the mental and emotional well-being of professionals. Burnout is an all too common reality for physiotherapists, which can have devastating consequences.

a. Definition of Burnout

To better understand burnout, you can imagine a light bulb. It shines brightly and strongly as long as it is supplied with electricity. However, if it is used for too long and too intensely without getting a break, it can overheat and eventually burn out.

Similarly, our bodies and minds work – if we are under stress for too long and feel overwhelmed without getting enough rest and relaxation, we can feel burnt out and exhausted, completely lacking in energy. We then have difficulty concentrating, feel tired, and often feel dissatisfied or even frustrated with our work or our life in general.

If burnout is not treated, it can have serious consequences. Therefore, it is crucial to take preventive measures and seek help when necessary.

b. Prevalence among Physiotherapists

Unfortunately, burnout is a serious problem that affects many professions, including physiotherapy. The high prevalence of burnout among physiotherapists is worrying. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that up to 50% of physiotherapists are affected by burnout at some point in their career.

Burnout not only affects the health and well-being of physiotherapists but also the quality of patient care. Therefore, both physiotherapists and their employers need to take measures to prevent or treat burnout. We will return to measures for prevention and treatment later.

c. Signs and Symptoms

Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. It often occurs in people who have to meet high expectations in professional or personal situations and feel overwhelmed while doing so.

If you, as a physiotherapist, suffer from burnout, the following symptoms may manifest:

  • Physical exhaustion: A physiotherapist suffering from burnout may feel physically exhausted even after a sufficient rest period. They may feel that their body is heavy and sluggish, and even simple tasks such as moving objects or standing for extended periods are tiring.
  • Emotional exhaustion: Burnout can also lead to emotional exhaustion. A physiotherapist may feel that they have no emotional space left to care for their patients. They may feel burnt out and empty, and have difficulty feeling compassion or empathy for their patients.
  • Irritability: Burnout can lead to increased irritability. You are easily annoyed and frustrated, even with small things. You may also feel like you are losing control of your emotions
  • Loss of motivation: A physiotherapist suffering from burnout can lose interest in their work. They may feel that their work is meaningless and that their efforts are not appreciated. They may also find it difficult to concentrate on their work.
  • Withdrawal: Burnout can also lead to withdrawal. A physiotherapist may distance themselves from their colleagues and isolate themselves. They may feel that they have no one to talk to about their work or that they are no longer part of the team.
  • Sleep problems: Burnout can also cause sleep problems. One may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also feel unrested even if they have had enough sleep.

Depending on the extent of the illness and individual symptoms, one or more signs may apply to you. However, even smaller symptoms should be perceived, as they can be warning signs.

d. Diagnosis

Diagnosing burnout can be a challenge because the symptoms are often not immediately apparent and can have other causes. It therefore requires careful listening and observation of the affected person.

To diagnose burnout in a physiotherapist, various factors must be taken into account, such as changes in behavior, emotions, and physical condition. Here are some signs that may indicate burnout in physiotherapists:

  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Low work morale
  • Withdrawal from social contacts
  • Sleep disorders
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach problems, or muscle pain

If you have several of these symptoms, it may be a sign of burnout. It is important that you receive a diagnosis from a professional healthcare provider to receive the correct treatment and start the healing process.



2. What Causes Burnout?

As a physiotherapist, you face one of the most demanding challenges: you must not only be in top physical shape, but also mentally to perform your work at the highest level. However, despite your efforts, burnout can occur and pull you into a spiral of exhaustion and overwhelm. But where does burnout come from in physiotherapists?

  1. High work pressure: Physiotherapists often work under high pressure to provide optimal care to their patients. They must adhere to tight schedules, handle many tasks at once, and often perform their work in a stressful environment.
  2. Long working hours: Physiotherapists often work long shifts, sometimes on weekends. This can lead to exhaustion and a feeling of overload.
  3. Lack of support from superiors or colleagues: If physiotherapists feel that their superiors or colleagues do not support them, this can lead to frustration and isolation and may also increase their workload.
  4. High expectations from patients and the healthcare system: Patients often expect quick and effective results from their treatment, and the healthcare system also places great value on fast recovery and short waiting times. These expectations often lead to a sense of failure and overwhelm.
  5. Constant striving for perfectionism: Physiotherapists are often very performance-oriented and strive for perfection in their work. If they feel that they are not living up to this ideal, it can lead to stress and burnout.

To prevent or treat burnout in physiotherapists, both you and your employer, if you have one, must take measures. In the following section, you will learn about the factors involved.


4. How Do I Prevent Burnout?

One of the most important measures that physiotherapists can take to prevent burnout is to create a healthy work-life balance.

  • This can mean:
  • Time for hobbies
  • Leisure activities for relaxation
  • Regular breaks during work
  • Sufficient good sleep

A positive work culture is also essential. What does that mean exactly?

As a physiotherapist, it is important to work in an environment that provides you with the necessary resources to perform your job successfully. Whether it is the latest equipment or enough time for appropriate patient care, you need support to carry out your tasks effectively.

But it's not just about what you need, it's also about what you deserve. A positive work environment is based on support and collaboration and can help keep you and your colleagues motivated and engaged, even in stressful situations.

It is important to recognize that a positive work environment does not happen by itself. It requires work and engagement from all parties involved, including management and employees. Regular meetings and open discussions can help address issues and concerns and find solutions together. When everyone works together and supports each other, it can help keep everyone motivated and productive and avoid burnout.



4. I am Suffering From Burnout - What Now?

If you feel like you are suffering from burnout, it is important to seek help. Burnout is a serious condition and can negatively affect your health, work, and relationships. There are many treatment options that can help you recover and improve your quality of life.

As a first step, it is recommended to make an appointment with your primary care physician or a psychologist. There, you can undergo a thorough examination to ensure that there are no other health issues that may be causing your symptoms. Your doctor can also give you advice on how to cope with stress and relax.

Three proven treatment options for burnout are:

  • Psychotherapy: There, you can learn strategies to alleviate your symptoms and cope with stress. In therapy, you will learn how to better control your thoughts and feelings to develop a positive attitude and strengthen your resilience.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: You learn to change negative thought patterns and behaviors that can contribute to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Medication treatment: Medications are used to improve your mood and energy or treat sleep disorders.

A combination of psychotherapy and medication is also possible. This can help alleviate symptoms in the short term and learn long-term strategies.

It is also important that you contribute to your own recovery. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help you feel better and increase your energy.

Overall, there are many treatment options for burnout. If you feel that burnout is affecting your life, you should seek help and talk to your doctor about your options. The right treatment can help you recover faster and improve your quality of life.


5. A Personal Account

An anonymous reader of our blog shared their own experiences with burnout:

"As a physiotherapist, I unfortunately experienced burnout myself and therefore know firsthand how serious and stressful this situation can be. As part of my job, I regularly deal with patients who have pain, injuries, and physical limitations. Although I have the opportunity to help them and support their recovery, this profession can also be very demanding.

In fact, burnout among physiotherapists is not uncommon. The work can be very strenuous and stressful, especially when working long hours or dealing with difficult cases. In addition, there is the emotional burden that comes with caring for patients with severe injuries or chronic pain. It can be very difficult to process and maintain these emotions.

I have developed some strategies to avoid burnout and protect myself. For example, I pay more attention to my sleep and nutrition and exercise more. At work, I have learned to set better boundaries. I try to separate my work life from my personal life and take time for myself. I have also learned to communicate more effectively with colleagues and superiors to prevent misunderstandings and conflicts.

I have developed some strategies to avoid burnout and protect myself. For example, I pay more attention to my sleep and nutrition and exercise more. At work, I have learned to set better boundaries. I avoid overtime and take regular breaks."


6. Conclusion

Physiotherapists are truly indispensable in our healthcare system. However, the high demands that come with their profession push many of them to the brink of burnout. This mindset of overload can have serious consequences both for the health and well-being of physiotherapists and for the quality of patient care. It is therefore crucial that both you and your employers take steps to prevent or treat burnout.

Practical advice for preventing and coping with burnout includes:

  • self-care and stress management
  • setting boundaries
  • building a support system
  • prioritizing sleep and nutrition.

But if burnout has already taken hold, it is of the utmost importance to seek help and receive appropriate treatment.

We should be aware that the profession of physiotherapists is not an easy one. They work tirelessly day after day to heal us and improve our health. A better awareness and understanding of the issue of burnout can help you and your colleagues get the support they deserve.


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