What is Physiotherapy?
Physiotherapy is a healthcare profession that assesses, diagnoses, treats, and works to prevent disease and disability through physical means. Physiotherapists are experts in movement and function who work in partnership with their patients, assisting them to overcome movement disorders, which may have been present from birth, acquired through accident or injury, or are the result of ageing or life-changing events.
Physiotherapy can help to recover from injury, reduce pain and stiffness, and increase mobility. A physiotherapist can also help you prevent further injury by listening to your needs and working with you to plan the most appropriate treatment for your condition, including setting goals and treatment outcomes.
As first contact practitioners, a doctor's referral is not necessary to see a physiotherapist. Physiotherapists, doctors, and other health professionals will often work as part of a team to plan and manage treatment for a specific condition.
What sort of treatment do physiotherapists use?
Physiotherapists are trained to assess your condition, diagnose the problem, and help you understand what's wrong. Your treatment plan will take into account your lifestyle, activities, and general health.
The following are common treatment methods physiotherapists may use:
• exercise programs to improve mobility and strengthen muscles
• joint manipulation and mobilisation to reduce pain and stiffness
• muscle re-education to improve control
• treatment ultrasound, TENS, intermittent pressure therapy
• airway clearance techniques and breathing exercises
• soft tissue mobilisation (massage)
• dry needling
• assistance with use of aids, splints, crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs.
• Lymphodeama management
Headaches are often caused by disorders of the neck or physical and emotional tension. Physiotherapists can successfully treat headaches originating from the neck or soft tissues and show you how to prevent the pain recurring.
Any of the following points could suggest that your neck may be causing a headache:
• associated with neck pain. Does the pain radiate from the back to the front of your head?
• with dizziness or light-headedness.
• brought on or worsened by neck movement or staying in the same position for a long time.
• which always feels worse on the same side of your head.
• eased by pressure to the base of the skull.
• which persists after your doctor has checked for other causes.
Headaches from other causes
If migraine, allergic reactions or other factors are likely to be causing or contributing to the headaches, your physiotherapist will recommend that you see a medical practitioner.
If you are experiencing painful headaches, neck aches or migraines, it is important that you have your situation assessed by a physiotherapist to determine the best treatment and management options.
Acute low back pain
Acute low back pain refers to pain in the lower back that has lasted for less than 12 weeks. Around 70 per cent of Australian adults will experience lower back pain at some point during their life.
What causes back pain?
Acute low back pain can be caused by many factors such as:
• trauma (fall, car accident, lifting)
• muscle imbalances (postural issues)
• existing medical conditions
• rheumatological conditions.
Injuries can happen when you do something new, different or strenuous, such as lifting heavy items or playing a new sport. The pain may also occur because of a build-up of stress on the back that gradually turns into an injury.
Although serious causes of back pain are rare, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Shoulder pain is a common complaint that seems to increase with age. Problems in the shoulder occur with everyday wear and tear, overuse, or injury. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint (like the hip, but not as stable) and since your shoulder moves every time you move your arm, it is not difficult to imagine that shoulder problems could affect up to 30% of adults at any one time, and are a common reason for a visit to the physio.
When to see a physio?
It is sensible to consult your physiotherapist if your shoulder pain fails to clear up after a couple of days of rest and application of ice (if the injury is recent) or heat (if the pain is from a chronic condition).
Other indications that it is time to call your physio are:
• Inability to use the arm or to carry objects.
• Inability to raise the arm
• Pain while at rest or laying on it
• Swelling or significant bruising around the shoulder joint or on the arm.
Although the knee may look like a simple joint, it is one of the most complex and the knee is more likely than any other joint in the body to be injured. But we tend to ignore our knees until something happens to them that causes pain.
Women suffer from more knee pain and disability than men.
In Australia more than 30 000 people have replacement knee surgery each year, and nearly two-thirds are women.
It is estimated that there are 676 000 knee injuries in Australia each year.
Over 1.2 million Australians suffer from osteoarthritis, and about 80% of these suffer from knee osteoarthritis. It is the leading cause of musculoskeletal pain and disability.
Injuries are often caused by overuse and there are ways to prevent them. If you are experiencing pain it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Patellofemoral pain is a common musculoskeletal issue that affects I0 - 20 per cent of the general population, making it the most common diagnosis in sports medicine and sports physiotherapy practices. Early diagnosis and treatment may help in a quicker and less painful recovery, as if left untreated, symptoms usually progressively worsen.
Physiotherapy is greatly beneficial in the treatment and management of patellofemoral pain. Physiotherapy intervention helps to strengthen one's quadriceps and hips, which subsequently aids in restoring the biomechanics of the patellofemoral joint. Physiotherapists are able to advise and design customised exercise programs to improve the strength of your knee and leg muscles and help you maintain good general fitness.
If you are experiencing patellofemoral pain, or any pain in your knee and joints, it is important to have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Ankle joints and feet are the link between your body and the ground. If you 'roll your ankle' as the foot hits the ground, the ankle may be sprained. Physiotherapists can assess your ankle to determine the severity and type of injury, and provide treatment which promotes healing and recovery. They can offer strategies and exercise to prevent sprains and improve performance.
What is an ankle sprain?
The ankle joint is made up of four bones shaped to make the joint stable. Increased stability of the joint is provided by ligaments, which are bands of strong, fibrous tissue that guide movement and prevent the joint from moving too much. These are supported and moved by the muscles.
An ankle sprain occurs when the ligaments, joint capsules and muscles are over stretched causing the tissues and small blood vessels to tear. Pain, bleeding in the tissues and swelling are the result.
To prevent increased swelling and help your recovery, during the first 48 hours after injury avoid any of the H.A.R.M. factors: heat, alcohol, running, massage.
If you are experiencing ankle pain, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Arthritis is the result of damage to your joints through wear and tear, trauma or some inflammatory conditions. There is no cure, but through physiotherapy there are ways of managing the condition and making life easier.
Symptoms and signs
• Recurring pain or tenderness in a joint.
• Stiffness, particularly in the morning.
• Swelling in a joint.
• Obvious redness or heat in a joint.
• Inability to move a joint.
Physiotherapists are highly qualified in the assessment and treatment of the effects of arthritis. Physiotherapy can:
• Reduce pain.
• Improve movement and posture.
• Strengthen muscles.
• Improve independent function.
• Assess and treat biomechanical problems that may exacerbate the pain and loss of function.
If you suffer from arthritis pain it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Foot Pain in Children and Adults
If your child is experiencing changes in their feet or leg shape, or any type of growing pain that is causing concern, it is important that you have their condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
The shape of children's feet and legs often changes during infancy and childhood. Variations such as in-turned, out-turned, or flat feet needn't cause concern as they are quite normal and may improve over time;
With ageing, adult feet also can change shape and biochemical form with painful consequences such as ankle pain / stiffness , "heel spurs" and plantar fasciitis.
If you're concerned about your child's feet or leg shape, or suffer with adult ankle/foot problems, see a physiotherapist for:
• Assessment of foot or leg problems.
• Advice on management of problems which will include exercises and possibly cost-effective customised orthotics.
Sport is an important part of the Australian lifestyle. Sports are not only fun, but they promote good health and relieve stress. Although sometimes injuries may occur, most injuries can fortunately be effectively treated, managed, and even prevented by your physiotherapist.
• Ligament sprains
• Joint injuries
• Over-use injuries
What goes wrong:
Most sporting injuries are a result of a direct blow (bruise or contusion) or an indirect force like a twist (sprains, strains, tears). Some injuries are due to over-use stresses (tendinitis, stress fractures).
Getting back into action:
Physiotherapy treatment will enable you to return safely to your sporting activity more quickly than just 'rest and see what happens'. Before you can safely return to your sport it is essential to regain strength, mobility, balance and co-ordination. Your physiotherapist will assess these areas and show you how to improve them.
If you are suffering from a sports related injury , it is important to have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Medical evidence has shown that if you continue to exercise regularly to keep physically fit, you are subsequently increasing your chances of living a healthier life. Physiotherapists encourage people to stay active and can customize exercises for people based on age and physical condition.
Physiotherapists are skilled in creating personalised exercise programs for seniors. Physiotherapists can help those who are limited due to arthritis, stroke, a fracture, osteoporosis and heart disease or even healthy people who just want to improve their exercise routine and muscle movement.
If you are a senior looking to improve your health, exercise routine, or a specific physical limitation, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Many Physiotherapists offer Dry Needling in conjunction with their other treatments. Dry Needling has been recognised for many years as a complementing practice in physiotherapy. Over the last decade its acceptance and use by physiotherapists has increased considerably.
This may be due to better understanding of the way acupuncture influences the body. It seems to have a balancing and regulating effect on overall body systems as well as a local therapeutic effect.
Dry Needling is beneficial for both chronic and acute conditions. Some of the conditions that a physiotherapist might treat with acupuncture are: sprains and strains, spinal dysfunction, arthritis, neurological conditions including stroke, some women's and men's health issues, headaches and migraine, some chest and cardiac conditions, and spasticity in children.
If you are interested in Dry Needling treatments, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Lifting and moving of objects is a common cause of pain and injury, in particular in the lower back area, but also often in one's neck and shoulders. Physiotherapists understand the mechanics of your muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments and how injuries occur. A physiotherapist can help to:
• Assess your muscle strength and custom design a fitness program to suit your needs and restrictions
• Teach you how to better handle loads and heavy lifting
• Show you how to prevent workplace or household injuries
• Treat muscle, joint, and ligament injuries to assist with a speedy recovery.
When your muscles or joints are stiff, it can greatly reduce your ability to keep your back in a safe position while you are lifting. Lifting may also be difficult for those with weak leg muscles. Exercise is crucial to ensure that your muscles don't tire and a physiotherapist can advise you on the best way to avoid such injuries and improve your fitness.
If you do a lot of lifting and/or are facing any pain in your joints, muscles or ligaments, it is important to be assessed by a physiotherapist.
The shape of children's feet and legs changes during infancy and childhood. Variations such as in-turned, out-turned, or flat feet needn't cause concern as they are quite normal and will correct over time; however if concerned, a parent should consult a physiotherapist for expert advice and management.
In Australia someone has a stroke about every 11 minutes. Stroke affects around 48 000 Australians each year.
The following symptoms are all possible signs of a stroke:
• weakness or numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg on either or both sides of the body
• slurred speech or difficulty understanding what someone is saying
• dizziness, loss of balance, or an unexplained fall
• loss of vision, sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes
• sudden severe headache
• difficulty swallowing.
Physiotherapy plays an important role in the recovery process following a stroke. After a stroke it is a good idea to consult a physiotherapist who can discuss your problems with the team that has been working with you, and help you to work on an exercise program designed to maximise your strength and balance and mobility. Your physio may have specialised equipment to aid the exercise program and continue your recovery.
If you have experienced a stroke, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
Pelvic Floor Muscles
Active pelvic floor muscles are very important to women and if poorly controlled, can lead to prolapse and loss of bladder or bowel control. Physiotherapists incontinence management can assess your pelvic floor muscles and help you to regain control if necessary.
Signs of poorly controlled pelvic floor muscles:
• leaking urine when sneezing, coughing, running, and laughing (or other sudden actions)
• not getting to the toilet in time
• tampons don't stay in place
• vaginal or anal wind (flatus) when bending and lifting
• bulging felt at the vaginal opening (prolapse)
• difficulty emptying the bowel completely.
You need special attention if you:
• are pregnant or a new mother
• are menopausal
• lift heavy objects often
• suffer from constipation
• are overweight
• cough frequently
• have low backache
• go to the toilet often to pass small amounts of urine.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms and need to regain control of your pelvic floor muscles, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a physiotherapist.
What is the difference between a Physiotherapist and an Exercise Physiologist?
A Physiotherapist is a Registered Health Professional who is able to diagnose and treat all musculo-skeletal conditions. Referrals are not required for Physiotherapists.
A Physiotherapist uses a wide range of treatment options to diagnose and manage patients and their injuries or conditions.
Physiotherapy is not passive treatment for acute injuries or conditions, but rather a comprehensive specialty that treats and manages both acute and chronic conditions.
A Physiotherapist can take you from the early stages of an injury or condition, right through to designing and instructing you in a home exercise or gym program.
Physiotherapists are able to help improve strength, functionality and lifestyle with exercise programs which they have specifically designed to work within the diagnosed limitations of the individual , thereby achieving the best outcomes.
Exercise Physiologists use supervised exercise programs to treat their patients and clients. Referrals are required for Workcover, CTP, DVA and Medicare patients.
Do I need a Doctor's referral?
No. Unless you are attending under a work cover or CTP certificate claim a referral is not necessary. Physiotherapists are primary diagnosticians and are muscle, bone and joint specialists who are able to diagnose and treat a wide range of issues and problems.
Is it a good idea to be assessed before commencing an exercise program at a gym or personal trainer?
Definitely. Potential problems which would not otherwise be picked up on can be identified and corrected minimising the risk of a serious injury
How long does a session last?
An initial session generally last around an hour with follow up sessions generally lasting around 45 minutes.
I you are a physiotherapist and have a degree in Manipulative Therapy. What extra skill does that give you?
A Manipulative Therapist is able to safely and effectively manipulate a joint when or if required. This is only done where a standard mobilising technique is insufficient
Can anything be done about my shoulder pain?
Yes. Most frequently the issue with shoulder pain involve either inflamed capsules (frozen shoulder) or muscle imbalances and over use (tendonitis +/or Bursitis. These create more problems than muscle tears and can be correctly managed and treated to fix the problem.
I spend a lot of time in front of a computer, can you help with my head and neck pain?
Yes. Generally the problems are created from prolonged postures and inadequate strength. This is true for headaches, neck and shoulder pain, back and hip pain or problems in the legs and ankles. Stretching alone is inadequate and the right exercises need to be graded and progressed to fix the problem.
Are growing pains real? Can anything be done?
Usually these pains result from the rate of growth between bones and muscle development not keeping pace. This can be further exaggerated by the child's sporty activities or efforts to participate.
When the specific problems are identified treatment will involve appropriate stretches and strengthening exercises and possible taping.
A scoliosis may occur because of leg length difference. By appropriately managing the length difference and the prescribed exercises the effect of the scoliosis can be overcome. Postural correction, exercises and adjustments to tasks are typically effective for management of scoliosis whenever it is not structural.
As I am getting older I am getting a lot of leg and knee pain. Can you help to reduce this pain?
Yes. Generally the problems relate to more sedentary jobs and less time given to appropriate exercises. As the muscles lose strength and condition it can affect daily living tasks. Stiffness, weakness and also unsteadiness can occur. With the right type and grading of exercises this situation can be improved and managed.
As I am hitting middle age I want to be able to keep doing the things I love. How can I make sure I can?
Not everybody has the time or interest to work out in a gym, nor do you need to. With the provision of an appropriately graded and progressed exercise program given by your physiotherapist you can restore your strength and fitness to the levels required to remain active in the sports or recreation you choose.