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What is Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapists assess, diagnose, treat and provide rehabilitation for your physical health issues.

Physios are ‘Allied Health Professionals’ which means that they are medical practitioners that are not a doctor, dentist or nurse.

Physiotherapy is a university degree qualification which takes 4-5 years to complete.

Physiotherapists may also specialise in areas such as:

What Does a Physiotherapist Do?

Physiotherapists assess, diagnose, treat and provide rehabilitation for your physical health issues. Let’s dive into each of these areas a little bit:


The assessment begins from the moment you begin to fill out the forms in the reception area as you are providing important information about your condition to your Physiotherapist. Once you enter the consultation, you will be asked detailed questions about your condition such as when it started, if there was an obvious cause and what different things increase or decrease your pain or discomfort. They may then proceed to perform a physical assessment if necessary, which may include special tests that help them to identify the nature of your problem. They may also be interested to examine your posture and observe you performing common functions such as walking, sitting and standing.

Some tests include:

  • Strength - To check if muscles can engage properly and with adequate force.
  • Range of Motion - To check if your joints are moving through a healthy range of motion.
  • Palpation - Touching to check sensation, pain and tenderness.
  • Stability - Are the structures of your body providing adequate stability?
  • Reflexes - Are your natural reflexes engaging as expected?

In some cases, the physiotherapist will need to refer you for tests such as x-rays or MRI scans in order to gather more information to form an accurate diagnosis.


A Physiotherapist is qualified to diagnose health issues. Based on their assessment, they can provide a formal diagnosis if necessary. This may be important for the purposes of informing your insurance provider and your workplace and any other legalities. It is also what provides the basis for the treatment and rehabilitation plan that he physiotherapist designs for you.


A physiotherapist has many tools at their disposal to treat your condition. Some of the common treatment options include:

  • Goal Setting and Advice
  • Manual Therapy (Massage & Manipulation)
  • Taping
  • Dry Needling
  • Cupping
  • Standard Exercise
  • Clinical Exercise(s)

There are also several different machines that physiotherapists can use such as:

  • Heat and/or Cold Therapy
  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
  • PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field)
  • Therapeutic Ultrasound
  • Light Therapy

Physiotherapy is an evolving field so new treatment options are incorporated if evidence shows that they are an effective treatment.


Many physical issues or injuries require ongoing rehabilitation such as stretches, exercises and manual therapy. Your therapist will demonstrate the exercises and then have you do them to make sure they are correct. They will give you a plan of which exercises to do and how often and will most likely want you to return for a follow up consultation to check on your progress and ensure you are still completing your rehabilitation programme correctly. If the condition does not improve, they may need to modify the programme to achieve better results or refer you on for more specialised assessment and treatment.

How Long is a Physiotherapy Appointment?

Initial consultations range from 30 to 60 minutes.

Follow-up consultations range from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.

Your appointment time may vary based on:

How Much Does Physiotherapy Cost?

Costs vary by clinic and practitioner so check with the clinic before you make an appointment.

As a rough guide, expect to pay from $59 to $89 for a consultation.

Medicare may cover some visits but make sure your doctor has referred you to access these rebates.

Many private health insurance policies also cover physiotherapy. Check your policy to make sure you are covered before you go for your appointment. If you are covered, you can usually swipe your health fund card at the point of sale (Hicaps or Healthpoint) in order to receive your rebate.

Is a Physiotherapist a Doctor?

No, a physiotherapist is not a doctor.

To be a doctor requires a higher score to begin the university study. To graduate as a doctor requires longer, more intense study and training in order to be able to deal with a myriad of health issues.

Physiotherapists on the other hand are trained to provide physical treatments only such as massage and manipulations. They may also prescribe stretches and physical exercises such as resistance band training and use equipment such as therapeutic ultrasound.

Do I Need a Referral to Visit a Physiotherapist?

No, you can have an appointment with a Physiotherapist whenever you wish.

If you have a serious problem, it is often wise to consult your GP first. They may then refer you to a specific Physiotherapist or other more specialised doctors.

Are Physiotherapy Expenses Tax Deductible?

No. Medical expenses such as physiotherapy are considered a personal expense and are not tax deductible.

Can Physiotherapy Help Back Pain?

Yes, physiotherapy can help with back pain.

Most back pain is acute - meaning that it will not last very long. There is strong evidence that simple cases of back pain will improve quickly without any intervention 1,2.

A physiotherapist will likely:

In follow up sessions, the physio may:

If the pain does not resolve within a few weeks and is due to muscle weakness or imbalance, the physio may create a strength and conditioning programme to address the issue. This will then be monitored over the following months to assess progress.

If the back pain continues for many months, it is labelled as ‘chronic’. In this case, a multidisciplinary approach will likely be necessary which may involve imaging tests and referral to other medical specialists.

There is evidence that progressively graded medical exercise therapy and conventional physiotherapy reduce the risk of disability in people with chronic lower back pain 3.

Can Physiotherapy Help Osteoarthritis?

Yes, but...

Physiotherapy includes many different treatment options and only two treatments have showed strong evidence of being helpful 4:

Exercise: The ‘core’ treatment recommended to treat osteoarthritis is exercise 4. A physiotherapist will be able to develop an exercise program for you that is appropriate for your circumstances. They will also be able to monitor your progress and adjust the programme as circumstances change.

Self-Management Education: Whilst exercise is the main recommendation, there is also evidence that self-management education may be beneficial. Your physiotherapist will help by giving you more information about your condition and ways that you can manage it using your own lifestyle adjustments combined with you exercise programme.

Other treatment modalities such as manual therapy, transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular facilitation (TENS), acupuncture and therapeutic ultrasound have shown limited evidence in being effective for treating osteoarthritis 4.

Can Physiotherapy Help Sciatica?

Yes, physiotherapy can help treat and manage the causes of sciatica.

It’s important to remember that sciatica is a symptom with many possible causes, and this means that the appropriate treatment will vary.

A physiotherapist will assess you in order to isolate the cause of your pain. In some cases, physical assessment alone may not be enough, and your physio may request imaging such as a CT or MRI scan. Most cases of sciatica resolve naturally within two weeks 5. As such the treatment options will be conservative. Only in rare, persistent cases will surgery be required.

Treatments likely to be suggested by a physiotherapist include:

Can Physiotherapy Help Bursitis?

Yes, physiotherapy can help treat and manage bursitis.

Initially, conservative treatment options will likely be recommended such as:

The aim here is to reduce the symptoms and minimise any damage to the affected area whilst maintaining strength in the muscles supporting the joint.

After the acute phase, ultrasound therapy may be used to assist with healing. If the conservative treatment does not yield results within a specific period, the physio may recommend one or more injections of corticosteroids or other analgesics.

If all other treatment options are exhausted, you may be recommended to have surgery. The surgery will aim to remove bone and tissue to create space within the joint to avoid and impingement and associated pain.

Which Physiotherapy is Best?

The effectiveness of a physiotherapy modality depends on many factors such as the condition being treated and the training, skills and experience of the physiotherapist.

Therefor it is impossible to say that one modality is the best.

If you want to know which modality is best for your condition you will need to book an appointment with a physiotherapist and discuss your issue with them.

They can then decide which form of physiotherapy will work best for your case.

When Did the Study of Physiotherapy Start?

Humans have been using physical therapy techniques since the days of ancient Greece.

A more formal style of physiotherapy began being developed by Pehr Henrik Ling in Sweden in 1813. Ling was an early pioneer of physical education and founded the Royal Gymnastic Central Institute of Sweden.

In Britain The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was founded in 1894 by four young nurses: Lucy Marianne Robinson, Rosalind Paget, Elizabeth Anne Manley and Margaret Dora Palmer.

In the USA, the first school of physical therapy was established at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., just after the outbreak of World War I.

From there the professional continued to proliferate and eventually become what it is today with practitioners operating in most of the countries around the world.

Where to Study Physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a university level qualification in Australia.

There are many Universities offering physiotherapy as a course of study so the best option for you will depend on your location, your graduation score, if you are willing to relocate and many other personal factors.

At the time of publication, the top 3 Universities as ranked by are:

  1. University of Notre Dame Australia
  2. Australian Catholic University
  3. University of Queensland

Keep in mind that these scores are based on feedback from current students and graduates about course satisfaction and graduate salaries.

Where you decide to study is ultimately up to you.

Why Choose Physiotherapy as a Career?

Physiotherapy may be a rewarding career for you if you:

The average salary for a Physiotherapist in Australia is $65,974 however as a graduate you may start on a lower salary and work your way up.

What to Do When Physiotherapy Doesn’t Work

Physiotherapists will do their best to diagnose and treat your condition however they are not infallible. It’s very important that you follow their instructions as closely as possible for the full duration of the treatment plan. If you complete the treatment plan that your physiotherapist sets out for you, but it does not solve your problem then they will refer you to a more specialised doctor.

You may need more advanced testing for a correct diagnosis, special medication, medical devices and/or surgery to treat your condition.

Remember also that we are all mortal. The older we get, the longer it takes the body to heal and towards the end of life injuries may not be able to be fully healed. If that is the case, then your doctor and health specialists will put together a management plan to make living with your condition as easy as possible.


1. Hancock MJ, Maher CG, Latimer J, et al. Can rate of recovery be predicted in patients with acute low back pain? Development of a clinical prediction rule. Eur J Pain 2009;13:51–55.

2. Henschke N, Maher CG, Refshauge KM, et al. Prognosis in patients with recent onset low back pain in Australian primary care: inception cohort study. BMJ 2008;337:a171.

3. Torstensen T, Ljunggren A, Meen H, Odland E, Mowinckel P, af Geijerstam S. Efficiency and Costs of Medical Exercise Therapy, Conventional Physiotherapy, and Self-Exercise in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain. Spine. 1998;23(23):2616-2624. doi:10.1097/00007632-199812010-00017

4. Walsh N, Pearson J, Healey E. Physiotherapy management of lower limb osteoarthritis. Br Med Bull. 2017;122(1):151-161. doi:10.1093/bmb/ldx012

5. Koes B, van Tulder M, Peul W. Diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. BMJ. 2007;334(7607):1313-1317. doi:10.1136/

6. Dahm K, Brurberg K, Jamtvedt G, Hagen K. Advice to rest in bed versus advice to stay active for acute low-back pain and sciatica. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2010. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007612.pub2