“We’ll want to know about your lifestyle, about the particular problem that you’re coming in for, and what your goals are and what you want to achieve out of seeing a physio.”—Phoebe Bowker, Acting Clinical Manager, Remedy Healthcare
Physiotherapy helps to relieve pain and helps you recover from injury or surgery. But it also provides preventative care to help you achieve long-term goals.
A typical physio appointment will involve a discussion of your lifestyle, current problem and goals. It will also include an assessment of your movement, and the development of a tailored treatment plan.
Private health insurance can help to offset the cost of physio treatment, with eligible Australian Unity health insurance customers receiving either 60 percent back on appointments or set benefits ranging from $25 to $70 per consultation.
We all know that exercise—whether that’s hitting the gym, playing sport or going for a run—is good for our physical and mental health, and our Real Wellbeing.
But what happens when pain strikes, or you start to feel a niggle of discomfort, or you need rehab following an injury or surgery? Usually, that’s the time to consult a physiotherapist.
But while these are certainly good reasons to make an appointment, physios have much more to offer in terms of preventative care and optimising your long-term mobility. An example? They can work with you to develop exercise programs that help you safely achieve your fitness goals—whether that’s running a marathon, or simply being strong or agile enough to carry the groceries home or chase a toddler.
We spoke to the experts to unpack what a physio does, when you should see one, and how your health insurance can help you access the specialised care they provide.
Preventative or reactive care? How a physio can help
A physio is a healthcare practitioner specialising in the structure of the human body and how it moves. Chiropractors and osteopaths are similar practices—so which one should you see for your particular issue?
Phoebe Bowker, a physiotherapist and Acting Clinical Manager with Australian Unity’s health partner, Remedy Healthcare, explains that what sets her profession apart is its very strict criteria for accreditation, as well as its evidence-backed focus on function, movement and achieving specific task-related goals.
Physios provide care for bones and muscles—like back or knee pain, or sports injuries. But they can also support a range of conditions and needs, including chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes, cardiorespiratory issues, and pre- and post-natal care.
These services typically fall into two main categories: reactive versus preventative care.
“If you’re looking at reactive or targeted injury-specific care, it’s probably because someone has identified a problem themselves—whether that’s an inability to do something, or pain,” says Phoebe.
“Whereas preventative is looking at the bigger picture of someone’s long-term goals and what they want to achieve that maybe they’re not currently able to.”
The right time to make an appointment
If you do have some sort of pain within your body—particularly in your back, knees, hips or shoulders—Phoebe advises getting yourself to a physio right away.
Soldiering on through pain is never a great idea, and seeing a physio sooner means it’s less likely that the issue will turn into a chronic condition. What’s more, some problems, like back injuries, can actually be exacerbated by bed rest, so it’s best to get expert advice as soon as possible.
Another bonus? Your treatment time frame will probably be shorter if you see a physio as soon as you start to feel pain, which saves you time and money in the long run.
As you get older, it’s likely that you’ll need to engage with a physio more often, Phoebe adds, to help you stay independent, maximise your long-term mobility, and manage any conditions that arise.
Like with a GP, find a physio you trust, then aim to check in with them once a year, or more often if you have a specific issue or fitness goal you want to address. Think of them as another collaborator on your holistic healthcare team, working with you to optimise your wellbeing.
What to expect from a physio appointment
At your first physio appointment, you’ll probably get a lot of questions.
“We’ll want to know about your lifestyle, about the particular problem that you’re coming in for, what your goals are and what you want to achieve out of seeing a physio,” says Phoebe.
“For some people, it might be reducing current and future pain, but for others, it might be increasing function.”
Your physio will assess your movement, strength and flexibility, then use that information to understand the issue and create a tailored treatment plan.
“If there’s any sort of pain or limitation with moving, we can address and alleviate the symptoms, and then work on how to prevent it reoccurring,” says Phoebe. “That might be something like an exercise program or adjusting your office set-up and how you’re working.”
The power of private health insurance
Shelby Dale, Product Manager of Retail (Health) at Australian Unity, notes that in 2023, physiotherapy was the third most-claimed service and that it’s a significant selling point for new members.
This is probably because Australian Unity’s health insurance coverage offers either a set benefit, or 60 percent back on physiotherapy consultations. Considering the average cost for a physiotherapy consultation in 2023 was about $94, this can add up to serious savings.
“Physiotherapy is included in all Extras and Combination products,” says Shelby, “and unlike other health funds, we don’t lock you into a provider network. This is great news for members because they have the freedom to be treated by their choice of any registered physio in a private practice.”
Private health insurance also provides eligible members with access to Australia Unity’s in-home rehabilitation program.
“We’ve got great programs for rehab at home now,” says Phoebe. “So reconditioning programs for post-op joint replacement surgery—such as total knee replacement. Private health insurance is really seeing the value in trying to prevent long-term hospital stays and getting you back home sooner.”
A holistic approach to healthcare
But when it comes to our health and wellbeing, Phoebe believes that a holistic approach can have significant benefits—and that different health professionals can all play a role.
“There are all sorts of health professionals who can cross-refer to each other. It might be a physio identifying that some equipment at home might assist you in remaining independent and safe, and then doing a cross-referral to an occupational therapist,” she says.
“Or once we’ve looked at your function and ability and addressed any specific needs, we might decide an ongoing exercise program would benefit you. And that’s where we can get an exercise physiologist to help with those prescriptive exercise programs.
“So I think our ability to keep other professions in mind and to know our scope of practice really means that the individual is being cared for in the best possible way.”
Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee names and titles were accurate at the time of writing.