Fact Sheet - Physiotherapist

What is a Physiotherapist?

Work-related physical injuries can occur as a result of an accident at work or slowly over time, through years of working. Frequent lifting duties or hours at a computer can lead to conditions such as muscular strains, problems with posture or back/neck pain. These kinds of injuries may require medical intervention to aid recovery and prevent a recurrence of the problem. The physiotherapist’s role is to treat injuries and conditions through a range of physical therapies. They also work in the area of prevention, such as with sports people, to maintain fitness and correct muscle weaknesses before they can affect performance.

The three main instances where a physiotherapist may be involved in the rehabilitation of a person include:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as back pain, workplace injuries, sprains and strains.
  • Disorders such as chronic bronchitis and asthma.
  • Neurological disorders: this includes head and spinal cord injuries, stroke and brain surgery.

Physiotherapists often work as part of a team of health professionals to manage a patient’s care and rehabilitation; however, a referral is not always necessary in order to see and be treated by a physiotherapist.

A physiotherapist will take the time to determine what a person’s problem is through an individual assessment. Following a diagnosis, an appropriate treatment plan will be developed to aid recovery and rehabilitation.

Physiotherapists focus on physical treatment, movement and function, so the methods used to treat a person may include:

  • The development of a tailored exercise regime designed to strengthen the weakened muscles and promote increased movement
  • Massaging soft tissue to improve mobility
  • Moving and manipulating joints to increase movement and lessen discomfort
  • Acupuncture
  • Stretching
  • Posture work to reduce the risk of recurrence
  • Breathing exercises
  • Hydrotherapy

Treatment usually involves a combination of the above methods rather than just one. Physiotherapists may also recommend the use of walking/movement aids such as crutches or splints, if appropriate. Some physiotherapists incorporate electrotherapy techniques within their treatment programs. This may include electrically stimulating nerves (commonly known as TENS), diathermy (using an electrical current to heat tissue, used for some joint conditions) and laser therapy.

Physiotherapists must be qualified at degree level and registered in the state in which they work with the Physiotherapists Registration Board. It is a physical role that involves frequent contact with patients, lifting, bending and standing for prolonged periods of time during treatment sessions.