For people engaged in physical activities, there’s a chance that at some point in time, they might experience some type of injury. This could be due to falling, tripping, or maybe even running without warming up properly. While getting hurt is simple, knowing what to do next can be a bit complicated without the right information. The most important thing is to make sure that the injury is diagnosed correctly by qualified practitioner so that the right treatment can be delivered on time.

To understand who to go to in case of a muscular injury, read on and find out exactly who does what.

Diagnosing the Problem

Both physiotherapists and doctors are able to diagnose the problem and will request scans to be done. Like doctors, physiotherapists can be “primary contact” practitioners who can examine, diagnose and treat injuries. As a matter of fact, there are two types of physios that can be present in an emergency department to handle musculoskeletal injuries that require urgent care.

Physios that see patients who have been referred to them, after being assessed first by a doctor, are known as “secondary contact” physiotherapists. On the other hand, physiotherapists who can directly see patients for acute injuries are “primary contact” physiotherapists. Most primary contact physiotherapists are completely in charge of the patient’s issue, and that’s usually because they have years and years of experience in treating patients with urgent conditions, and have also undergone extra training and post-graduate studies. They also have knowledge of other areas such as radiology, giving them expert skills and holistic capabilities towards managing musculoskeletal issues. These can involve issues in muscles, tendon, ligaments and various other issues.

Get on top of your physical health

Find and instantly book affordable physios within Australia

Find Physios in Australia

When Should You See a Doctor First

If you’ve had a pretty serious injury, for example where it’s evident that a bone might have been broken, a doctor in emergency is always the port of call. Another case where going to a doctor first may be of benefit is in case of is if you have a work injury or a car accident and you need physiotherapy as a result. To get treatment under a program like WorkCover program, you need to have a doctor’s referral first. With that, the physio can bill the cover provider directly and you won’t be left with a significant bill out of pocket.
Another scenario might be where someone has a chronic health condition or chronic pain that lasts longer than three months. A doctor can give you a special EPC referral to see a physio and get Medicare rebates on up to 5 consultations.

When Should You See a Physiotherapist First

In most other scenarios, seeing a physiotherapist first is the best for treating a musculoskeletal injury. They can diagnose your problem very accurately and in a specialised way because it concerns their field (muscle and joint injuries). The effective diagnosis can lead to rapid treatment and faster recovery times.
A physiotherapist will also refer you for certain types of X-Rays that can then be bulk-billed, and they can also refer for other types of imaging (CT scans, MRI or diagnostics ultrasound) to get those earlier. However, this depends as sometimes, imaging doesn’t get bulk billed if they are referred from a physio.

Physiotherapists can also diagnose the problem and put things in place to hold the issue up, for example a splint, brace, cast or strapping it. This is a good way to kickstart the rehabilitation process. Based on their advanced knowledge of the joints and muscles, physiotherapists know exactly if and when another orthopaedic specialist needs to get involved and they can provide a referral as well. This means that the treatment will holistic and cover the entire scope of the issue.

Some areas of injury, for example sports injuries, it’s much better and faster to see a physio directly rather than going to the GP first. This is because a referral to a physiotherapist can also imply a long wait time until an appointment is available. This might exacerbate the issue into something bigger, which should be avoided.

In a lot of muscle injuries, exercise is the most important element to recovery. A physiotherapist will be able to prescribe and also show the appropriate exercises to help with recovery. The exercises will help restore movement by taking care of the imbalances and strengthening specific muscles, which eventually diminishes the pain. Exercise is also important following recovery, to ensure you remain healthy. Unlike physiotherapists, GPs rarely prescribe exercises and will usually refer you to a physiotherapist for specialist exercises.

Whether your first choice to deal with the injury is going to a GP or a physiotherapist, in most injuries these two will work together for the treatment of the issue. GPs will often refer patients with injuries to a physiotherapist for treatment when this is indicated, and physiotherapists will refer to a doctor when medication, injections or scans are needed, for example anti-inflammatory drugs.

Who is a Physiotherapist?

Physios are qualified medical professionals who undergo university education prior to practicing. They study anatomy of the human body, physiology and movement biomechanics, especially the muscle and joint system. Through a combo of university education and training,a physiotherapist diagnoses health conditions and utilises hands-on techniques to resolve your medical issue relevant to their expertise.

What type of benefits does physiotherapy provide?

Physiotherapy can help you relieve or reduce your pain, provide ongoing support to manage your injury or condition, and help you to recover after an accident or other injury. Physios also work with you to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, movement, and co-ordination.

A: Use HealthEngine to find and book your next Physiotherapist appointment. Click on the following locations to find a Physiotherapy clinic in your state or territory.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If in doubt, HealthEngine recommends consulting with a registered health practitioner.

All content and media on the HealthEngine Blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. Never disregard the advice of a medical professional, or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the nearest hospital emergency department, or call the emergency services immediately.