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What is physiotherapy? 

23 June 2022

What is physiotherapy? 

If you’ve been affected by illness, injury or disability, physiotherapy can help to restore movement and function, manage pain, and reduce your risk of future complications.  

Physiotherapists are involved in the assessment, diagnosis, planning and management of patient care. They take a ‘whole person’ approach, which includes the patient’s general lifestyle, and encourage active participation in treatment.  

With a deep, practical understanding of the structure and movement of the human body, physiotherapists work with people of all ages to treat a wide range of health conditions – everything from osteoarthritis and obesity to stroke and sports injuries.   

Partnering manual therapy with education and advice around movement and exercise, the discipline seeks to develop, maintain, restore and make the most of a patient's mobility, function, and wellbeing.   

To qualify as a physiotherapist in Australia, practitioners must complete a bachelor, masters or professional doctorate program, as well as supervised practice in a clinical setting. They must then register with the National Physiotherapy Board of Australia and complete continuing professional development. 

What do physiotherapists do? 

Physiotherapists treat a wide range of musculoskeletal, cardiothoracic and neurological conditions. Rather than zoning in on just the area of pain, injury or chronic disease, they assess the body as a whole and create a treatment plan targeted to individual goals.  

Providing lifestyle modification and self-management advice, physiotherapists prescribe and supervise exercises and injury prevention activities, as well as recommending aids, appliances and modifications.  

Three of the main approaches a physiotherapist may use are: 

  • education and advice – around, for example, lifestyle or posture 
  • movement and exercise – targeted to improve mobility and function in problem areas 
  • manual therapy – to manipulate, mobilise and massage the tissues. 

Why work with a physiotherapist? 

You might want to think about contacting a physiotherapist if you have suffered an injury or are experiencing chronic pain. You might also be referred by your doctor following surgery or illness.  

The types of conditions physiotherapists typically treat include:  

  • Neck, back, hip and knee pain caused by problems in the bones, joints and soft tissue  
  • Continence issues, including following childbirth 
  • Sports injuries 
  • Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis 
  • Diabetes 
  • Lung problems caused by conditions such as cystic fibrosis, COPD or asthma 
  • Loss of function and mobility following trauma to the brain or spine, or due to diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis 
  • Rehabilitation following stroke or, for example, cancer treatment. 

Who can benefit from physiotherapy? 

Physiotherapy isn’t just for musculoskeletal problems – those aches and twinges in your body – it can be really helpful for certain conditions affecting the brain and nervous system, your heart and circulation, and your lungs and breathing.  

And it’s not just for tackling ‘problems’ - physiotherapy can improve your physical activity, help prevent injury, and support independence. 

At a practical level, sessions are wholly tailored to the individual. Your physiotherapist will: 

  • Gather information on your medical history 
  • Assess and then diagnose your condition 
  • Create a goal-focused treatment plan  
  • Prescribe exercises and, as necessary, assistive devices/modifications.