What is a physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist is a university-trained health professional who can treat pain caused by joint, muscle and nerve problems. Physiotherapists can also treat people for heart, lung and nerve conditions.

Physiotherapists help people move and be physically independent. They can give you advice about physical fitness, help you get better after injury or surgery, and treat sporting injuries.

Paediatric physiotherapists are physiotherapists who specialise in working with children from birth to late adolescence. They usually have further training and experience such as a graduate diploma in paediatrics or a masters degree.

Physiotherapists work in community health centres, private practices and hospitals.

Why your child might see a physiotherapist

A physiotherapist can help your child with:

  • problems with balance, posture, coordination and general motor skills
  • joint, muscle or nerve problems that are causing weakness or pain
  • weight and fitness issues
  • sports injuries
  • recovery after surgery to improve strength, movement, function and independence.

Physiotherapists often work with children with developmental or physical disabilities like cerebral palsy and Down syndrome to help them with physical and motor skills problems.

They can also screen children for developmental conditions like scoliosis.

Physiotherapists who work with children will want you to be involved in your child's sessions and in planning your child's treatment. Good communication with families is very important to paediatric physiotherapists.

You don't need a GP referral to see a physiotherapist, but your GP or child and family health nurse is always a good place to start if you're worried about your child's health or development. These health professionals can help you decide about seeing a physiotherapist and help you find someone who's right for your child.

Before going to a physiotherapist

If your GP refers your child to a physiotherapist, it's a good idea to talk with the GP about the following things:

  • Why you're going to the physiotherapist: talk with your GP about why your child needs to see a physiotherapist.
  • Is there anything you can do while you're waiting for the appointment?
  • Waiting list: how long before you can get an appointment to see the physiotherapist?
  • Making an appointment: it might take you more than one phone call to make an appointment.
  • Cost: how much will the appointment with the physiotherapist cost? It might be expensive, so you could check whether you can get money back from Medicare or private health insurance or whether you can get some other kind of financial help.
  • Location: find out where you have to go to see the physiotherapist - for example, a hospital or private consulting rooms or a community health centre. You might have to travel further than you expect, depending on your child's needs. Some children's physiotherapists do home visits.

You might want to talk about these things and any other questions you have with your GP before you go to the physiotherapist. You could also ask the physiotherapy practice or health centre when you make the appointment. It's a good idea to write down any questions you have, so you don't forget.