Making the case for physiotherapy in eating disorders treatment

As someone with a history of anorexia, Rosie Coull felt she had a lot to offer on her placement at an eating disorders ward

Rosie Coull
Rosie Coull MSc physio student at the University of Cumbria. Rosie undertook an elective placement at Cambridge and Peterborough NHS Trust

I had mixed feelings about how I would find the placement because of my lived experience and, my fellow students were surprised that this was even a possibility, due to the lack of awareness about the role of physiotherapy in eating disorder treatment. 

Unfortunately, physiotherapy still isn’t routinely offered as a treatment, and I believe there is great value in physio being part of the multi-disciplinary team approach to treating eating disorders. I feel that my engagement in dysfunctional exercise for many years sustained my eating disorder. This was picked up by an MSK physiotherapist, years after I had been discharged from the eating disorder team. I remember feeling a strange sense of relief to get this support.

There is great value in physiotherapy being part of the multi-disciplinary team approach to treating eating disorders.

Challenging patients’ relationships with exercise was a fundamental part of my experience whilst on placement. It’s hard – telling someone the best thing they can do for their physical and mental health right now is to not exercise seems almost paradoxical, and patients do really struggle with this.

In the later stages of recovery, we help patients reintroduce safe and enjoyable activity in the hope they can sustain this as part of a healthy lifestyle. Having community physiotherapists continuing this work after discharge would, obviously, decrease chances of relapse. MSK issues relating to low body weight and compulsive exercise are common, and so providing support for these was another part of my placement.

Undoubtedly, there are many potential benefits of including physiotherapy in eating disorder treatment and physios working in this area are working hard to raise its profile. A good start would be putting it on the university course syllabus.

Then, at the very least, physios are equipped with some knowledge of what to look out for when they suspect someone has an eating disorder and are aware of their role in their care. 

Find these resources on the CPMH site titled Physiotherapy in Eating Disorders 

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