Physiotherapy in Australia
Physiotherapists are highly qualified health professionals who work in partnership with their patients to help people get better and stay well.
Physiotherapists also work closely with GPs and other health clinicians to plan and manage treatment. GPs refer more patients to physiotherapists than any other healthcare profession.
Using advanced techniques and evidence-based care, physiotherapists assess, diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of health conditions and movement disorders. Physiotherapy helps repair damage, reduce stiffness and pain, increase mobility and improve quality of life.
Physiotherapy extends from health promotion to injury prevention, acute care, rehabilitation, maintenance of functional mobility, chronic disease management, patient and carer education and occupational health.
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Common reasons people seek help
All Australians can benefit from physiotherapy at some point in their lives. While it is well-known that physiotherapists treat injuries, increasing numbers of Australians are coming to physiotherapists when they want to take control of their health and stay well. Some of the needs physiotherapists address include:
- Cardiorespiratory – prevents, rehabilitates and supports people living with, or at risk of diseases and injuries affecting the heart and lungs, such as heart disease or asthma. Physiotherapists help patients prepare for or recover from surgery, and prescribe exercises and other interventions to improve quality of life.
- Cancer, palliative care and lymphoedema – addresses a range of patient needs, including treating, managing or preventing fatigue, pain, muscle and joint stiffness, and deconditioning.
- Continence and women’s health – manages and prevents incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction in men, women and children. Physiotherapists work in areas including pregnancy, birth, post-partum care, breastfeeding, menopause, bedwetting, prolapse, loss of bladder or bowel control, and with men living with or recovering from prostate cancer.
- Supporting older Australians – uses evidence-based care to promote healthy and active ageing among older Australians. Working in home and residential aged care settings, physiotherapists help manage or prevent the effects of conditions or risks such as osteoporosis, incontinence and falls.
- Musculoskeletal – prevents and treats clients with musculoskeletal conditions such as neck and back pain. Techniques include addressing underlying problems, preventing strain and injury, and prescribing exercises and other interventions to promote mobility.
- Neurology – promotes movement and quality of life in patients who have had severe brain or spinal cord damage from trauma, or who suffer from neurological diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
- Orthopaedic – helps patients prevent or manage acute or chronic orthopaedic conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and amputations. Physiotherapists also help patients prepare for or rehabilitate from orthopaedic surgery, or another orthopaedic hospital admissions.
- Occupational health – supports the health and wellbeing of workers, reduces safety risks in the workplace, prevents and manages injuries and diseases, and support workers in returning to work.
- Paediatric (supporting infants and children) – aims to prevent conditions such as plagiocephally (misshapen head) or support a child’s development such as addressing milestone delays with sitting and walking, clumsiness, or hyperactivity.
- Pain – manages or prevents pain and its impact on function in patients using a psychologically informed and interdisciplinary approach. Physiotherapists work with other health and social-care professionals to manage pain at the acute stage of an injury or condition, including through identifying psychosocial risk factors that may lead to chronicity.
- Sports – prevents, diagnoses and treats musculoskeletal and sporting injuries among all types of people, from professional athletes to everyday Australians.
- Acupuncture and dry needling – which helps to manage both chronic and acute conditions such as sprains and strains, spinal dysfunction, arthritis and neurological conditions.
- Aquatic – using a pool, physiotherapists treat patients with a multitude of conditions using hydrotherapy including sports injuries, post-operative and orthopaedic conditions, spinal pain and/or injuries and arthritis. Aquatic physiotherapy is popular for aged care.
About a typical physiotherapy session
A typical session with a physiotherapist is unique to a patient’s needs and their health condition. Treatment also depends on the scope of practice of the physiotherapist.
However, a ‘typical’ session may involve:
- Assessing and diagnosing the patient’s condition and needs.
- Working with the patient to set and attain goals—whether that's maintaining mobility and independence in aged care to running a marathon
- Developing a treatment or prevention plan that will take into account lifestyle, activities and general health
- Prescribing exercise and physical aides if required.
Where do physiotherapists work?
Physiotherapists work in a range of settings including in private and public hospitals, community health services, in private clinics, or working with older people in residential aged care facilities.
What qualifications are required to practice as a physiotherapist?
Physiotherapy courses vary across the country and entry may be through a bachelor, masters or professional doctorate program. Physiotherapists are required by law to be registered with the Physiotherapists Registration Board in the state or territory in which they are practising.
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About the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA)
The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is the peak body representing the interests of more than 23 000 physiotherapy members and their patients. The APA helps to support the voice, community and quality of the profession to advance physiotherapy in Australia and internationally.