Physical therapists What is physiotherapy? August 17 2018
Charlotte Mitchell Author Charlotte Mitchell Health Writer

Physiotherapy is a common treatment for a variety of health issues including pain. Here’s what you need to know about it before you book an appointment.

The goal of physiotherapy is to use physical techniques to improve the way your joints, bones and muscles work. A physiotherapist can help diagnose and treat an illness and injury, and support people in managing ongoing health conditions and disabilities.  

The benefits of physiotherapy can include:

  • pain relief
  • repairing damage
  • reduced stiffness
  • increased mobility and flexibility
  • better coordination
  • increased strength
  • improved quality of life.

Physiotherapists approach treatment with a holistic philosophy and empower people to be actively involved in their own care. That is, physiotherapists don’t just treat the symptoms of an issue. They will help identify the underlying factors that cause or contribute to the problem, and give you support in addressing them. This will help you maintain your recovery, prevent future problems and improve your overall wellbeing in the long term. 

What qualifications do physiotherapists have?

Physiotherapists are qualified health professionals who specialise in maintaining and improving movement and mobility. At a minimum, physiotherapists have completed a four-year Bachelor degree, with many going on to complete additional training. All physiotherapists must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Registration Agency (AHPRA). 

Can physiotherapy help me?

There are many conditions that could benefit from physiotherapy. You may seek physiotherapy to overcome the effects of an accident or injury, or you may want to manage an issue that you’ve had for many years. These conditions include:

  • acute (sudden) injuries or pain in your muscles, bone and joints, such as back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and knee injuries
  • chronic (long term) conditions affecting your muscles and bones, such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis
  • neurological disorders that affect your nervous system function, such as Parkinson’s disease
  • recovery following a stroke
  • women’s health conditions, such as incontinence
  • conditions that cause fluid build-up in the lungs, such as cystic fibrosis
  • post-operative rehabilitation, for example joint or knee/hip replacement
  • postural ailments.

Physiotherapy can also help prevent injuries from occurring in the future by building up your strength and wellbeing. 

A physiotherapist assessing an injured man's knee

What do physiotherapists do?

A physiotherapist will assess your condition and develop a personalised plan for recovery. They will track your progress against the plan, and adapt your treatment as necessary. This will incorporate education, in combination with manual therapy, movement training and conditioning exercises, including:

  • soft tissue massage of muscles, tendons or ligaments
  • exercise therapy and rehabilitation
  • muscle strength and conditioning training
  • joint mobilisation therapy
  • manipulation of the neck or spine
  • stretching
  • core stability training 
  • electrotherapy.

Does research support the use of physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is an evidence-based practice with research finding it effective in certain scenarios: 

  • physio can bring short term improvements in physical function after a total knee replacement surgery but long-term benefits haven’t been identified
  • based on current research the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia has recommended physiotherapy be included in standard cancer care to help with side effects of cancer and its treatment
  • it may improve stiffness and physical function for people with osteoarthritis in their knees
  • it’s effective in helping people who have had a stroke improve function and mobility.

If you think you may need physiotherapy, you can find a qualified professional and you can always have a chat with your GP if you have any concerns.

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Charlotte Mitchell Author Charlotte Mitchell Health Writer Charlotte Mitchell is a health writer and avid foodie. She loves cooking, dancing, music, and spending time with her fluffy dogs. Charlotte is passionate about making sure people have access to high quality information about their health.