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Physiotherapy - Everything You Need to Know (2021 Update)

If you're reading this article, you're probably contemplating physiotherapy. Maybe you've been referred to a physiotherapist by your GP, family, friends or even by Googling 'physio near me'. Over the last 100 years, physiotherapists have helped Australians all over the country achieve goals and experience fulfilling lives.

Reducing pain. Moving better. Recovering from surgery. These are the types of problems that physiotherapists are trained to assist you with. So, if you need help but are unsure how physiotherapy works, we have written a detailed article just for you. We'll be going over numerous topics, including what you can expect, the treatments being delivered and what to look out for when finding the right physio.

Please note: The term 'physiotherapist' and 'physio' are the same and will be used interchangeably.

What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy or physical therapy is a field of medicine dedicated to helping patients recover or manage their conditions, disabilities and injuries. Physiotherapists use various treatments, including exercise, hands-on therapy, electrotherapy, providing day-to-day strategies, and others.

Alongside doctors and other allied health professionals (e.g. occupational therapists, exercise physiologists, podiatrists, etc.) physiotherapists play a crucial part in the healthcare system by working in various settings. Places where you may see a physio work include; private clinics, medical centres, hospitals, sports environments and rehabilitation gyms.

What does a physiotherapist do?

Physiotherapists work within a range of specialities and workplaces. Depending on your physio's qualifications and expertise, they will be able to help you with your specific problem. By using you will be able to find a physio depending on your needs. Most physiotherapists are generalists and can effectively treat most common physical conditions.

However, more specific conditions may require seeing a specialist physiotherapist. Examples of these specialities will be detailed below.

Musculoskeletal physiotherapy

As implied by the name, musculoskeletal physiotherapists are the most common in dealing with common physical conditions. These include lower back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, sprains, strains, etc. Titled musculoskeletal physiotherapists have undergone additional training through postgraduate physiotherapy courses. They have a broad range of treatments to cater for dealing with these types of health problems, including

  • Advanced exercise prescription and rehabilitation

  • Manual therapy (e.g. joint mobilisations, massage, trigger point therapy, etc.)

  • Electrotherapy (e.g. ultrasound, TENS and interferential)

  • Dry needling

  • Providing tailored strategies and education for pain and injury management

  • Clinical pilates

Sports physiotherapy

Most general physiotherapists are highly educated and experienced in managing sports injuries. Similar to musculoskeletal physios, they deal with similar types of injuries. However, elite athletes with an urgent timeline or complex injuries may opt for a more specialised opinion. Although many sports physios still offer similar treatments as musculoskeletal physiotherapists, they may have a more active-based approach considering their primary patient demographic, including

  • Corrective exercises

  • Strength and conditioning

  • Clinical pilates

  • Functional rehabilitation

These types of treatments are particularly more tailored for those with ambitions for returning to highly physical sports or activities)

Neurological physiotherapy

Neurological physiotherapists tend to deal with nerve-related conditions and injuries. Suppose you have a long-term neurological condition or have recently developed one. In that case, there is a high probability that physiotherapy treatment will be incredibly beneficial. Examples of conditions that may consider this specialised form of therapy include:

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Stroke rehabilitation

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Traumatic brain injury and concussion

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Plus more

Neurological physiotherapists have undergone additional training and primarily only work with these types of demographics. Many people with neurological conditions can face declining abilities to perform basic functions and movements. As a result, these physios have developed specific and advanced rehabilitation techniques to help their patients with their goals (e.g. improve mobility, regaining independence, being able to go out, being in less pain, etc.).

Other Specialised Physiotherapy Services

Less common conditions often require even more specialised physiotherapy services. If you're unsure about who you need to see, please refer to the table below.

Physiotherapy ServicesRoleConditions Seen
Women’s Health PhysiotherapyTherapists work with women who may benefit from targeting the pelvic floor muscles. This is primarily post pregnancy.Pre-natal and post-partum women, pregnancy-related issues, post-hysterectomy, incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, sexual pain
Cardiorespiratory physiotherapyAlthough these physiotherapists work in predominantly hospital-based roles, there is growing demand and supply of outpatient services. These therapists are specially trained to work with those suffering from heart and lung conditions. Chest physiotherapy techniques, such as breathing exercises, rehabilitation and manual therapy, are used.COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation.
Vestibular physiotherapyPeople suffering from vestibular problems, which can cause issues with dizziness and the ability to balanceVertigo, Benign paroxysmal positional Vertigo (BPPV), Ménière's disease, vestibular migraines, unsteadiness, vestibular neuronitis, labyrinthitis
Paediatric physiotherapyThe way children move, function and develop are unique compared to adults. As a result, children can also face different types of physical challenges and conditions. Paediatric physiotherapists required further training and experience with analysing, diagnosing and treating the specific impairments seen in the younger population (0-18 years of age).Child-specific sports injuries (e.g. Sever's disease, Osgood-Schlatter's disease, etc.), juvenile arthritis, torticollis, delayed development milestones, toe-walking, scoliosis
Physiotherapy at homeThose who are unable or find it challenging to attend medical appointments can opt for mobile physiotherapists to conduct sessions within the comfort of your own home.General deconditioning, lower back pain, joint pain, post-operative rehabilitation, muscle pain, etc. Please contact the service provider to see whether their physiotherapists provide more specific conditions.
Online physiotherapy or telehealthPrimarily due to coronavirus lockdowns, telehealth or online consultations are available for many clinics. You can receive online assessments, diagnosis, exercise programs and strategies through video/phone sessions in the convenience of your own home.General deconditioning, lower back pain, joint pain, post-operative rehabilitation, sports injuries, muscle pain etc. Please contact the service provider to see whether their physiotherapists provide more specific conditions.
NDIS PhysiotherapyBoth general and specific physiotherapy service providers accept patients under the NDIS network. Contact your case manager or your preferred physiotherapist to inquire further.Please contact the service provider to see whether their physiotherapists provide more specific conditions.
TMJ PhysiotherapyNot many people know that there are specialist physiotherapists who can help with TMJ and jaw issues. However, there are service providers who have undergone additional study to perform advanced assessments and treatment of the area.Clenching, grinding, TMJ and jaw-related pain, jaw rehabilitation, neck-related jaw dysfunction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Physiotherapy

Every day we are asked questions about physiotherapy. Whilst we hope to get back to you as soon as possible, we thought it'd be more convenient if we answered it here for you.

How to become a physiotherapist in Australia?

To become a physiotherapist, you must first complete a registered tertiary course. You can achieve a Bachelor of Physiotherapy after meeting the prerequisites after your final year assessments for some universities. Some universities offer a Masters of Physiotherapy and Doctorate of Physiotherapy, which requires you to complete a Bachelor's degree and fulfil some prerequisites. Overall, it takes about 4-6 years to finalise studies.

To be able to practice in Australia, a physiotherapist must be registered with AHPRA. For more information, you can visit the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) website.

Is physiotherapy covered by Medicare?

You may qualify for up to 5 yearly physiotherapy visits for clinics that accept it. However, you must have a referral if you are deemed eligible by your GP.

Do you need a referral to see a physio?

Outside of Medicare subsidies, no referrals are required to see a physiotherapist privately. Under certain circumstances, such as Workcover, TAC and NDIS, you need a referral from an authorised individual (e.g. GP, case manager, etc.).

If you'd like to kick-start your health, will help you instantly find a local physiotherapist who can help you right away.

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