True Physiotherapy – Part One

 by Kate Greenaway, Goonellabah NSW

I have been working in Physiotherapy for over 30 years. I graduated from Sydney University in 1984 and worked in teaching hospitals for the next 2 years. For the following 6 years I worked in private practice, learning as much as I could from more experienced physios, but I found there was a hardness to the way physiotherapy was practised and so I went overseas in search of a more gentle way to treat the whole body.

In Boston, USA, I did courses introducing me to the importance of the connective tissue in the body. I experimented with more gentle ways of releasing this tissue for my many clients that had complex chronic spinal pain.

I came back to Australia in 1997 and moved to the Northern Rivers region of NSW, working in Community Health for 4 years full time and then 4 years part time. I treated the full range of ages and conditions, from babies to the elderly. Since 2002 I have been self-employed, working in a wonderful complementary healing clinic called Universal Medicine in Goonellabah and for 2 years until December 2016 I also worked in a family medical practice nearby. Over the years, I have undergone such a transformation in myself and my work that the way I am with patients, and how I approach my treatments with them now is a world away from even 15 years ago.

It has often been suggested to me by patients and other physios that – ‘you need to write about the work you are doing, share it with other practitioners, physios and people who are used to the old style of physio – and it has dawned on me that how I live, how I work, how I support my patients physically, emotionally and energetically is what I would call True Physiotherapy, which has inspired this article.

Almost all the physios I have met from when I graduated to now – have all had a genuine care for people, and they are very skilled at observing movement and analysing where the body is moving or performing in a dysfunctional way. The fundamental approach of standard physiotherapy is to problem-solve and implement methods of treatment that correct the dysfunctional joint movement, or excess muscle/soft tissue tension. All with the goal of decreasing pain and improving function.

There are 2 main problems with this approach:

  1. Having a treatment driven by a goal that the practitioner wants the body to achieve is imposing. It does not allow for the body’s natural healing processes to take place. I remember feeling it just wasn’t helping the body heal by pushing on joints to get them to loosen up or getting my patient to push their leg or arm against my arm and then stretch their limb forcefully for more joint movement and muscle length.
  2. The way physios are educated and practically trained is to focus on the one main area of physical dysfunction and symptoms. It is not about considering the body as a whole, and certainly doesn’t take into account the emotional status or energetic vitality of the person.

As a result, physios mostly look at the body with a very narrow focus – this reductionist approach may help an acute condition of one joint or body part and a few muscles, but it does not truly support the many patients who have chronic complex physical and emotional problems. As a young physio when I worked in this way I was always uneasy, as I knew this way was a) not considering big parts of the picture that made up the whole story for the patient and b) treating them in this narrow way was imposing on the body; it was me saying, I know how you should be and move, and this is the technique I will use to fix you’. Essentially, I realised this came with a force – even though I thought I was doing the ‘right’ thing. Many patients say to me now that they are often more sore for days or weeks after they have had standard physiotherapy treatment than they were before.

What was making me uneasy in treating in this standard way, was that it was not taking into account the bodys ability to heal itself.

The body has a remarkable intelligence to continually heal and bring itself to a greater level of balance and harmony. This includes everything in the body – the organ systems, nervous system and the movement system the musculoskeletal system.

Understanding the body in this way opened me up to consider the person in a truly holistic way – as a physical being, an emotional being and an energetic being. When I was a young physio, I was not trained in understanding how emotional stresses or poor vitality affected the body, leading to organ dysfunction and physical dysfunction. All I was focused on was what was the physical problem and how do I fix it. Now I consider all these factors and help support the person to understand the deeper disharmony in their body that eventually causes the physical problem. I gently assist the body to enhance its natural healing process and support the person to reconnect to their natural quality of gentleness.


Read more:

  1. True Physiotherapy – part 2.
  2. Holistic Physiotherapy – Patient Testimonials. 

345 thoughts on “True Physiotherapy – Part One

  1. Kate, I’ve received Esoteric Connective Tissue Therapy sessions with you in the past and they are just remarkable. The gentleness of the movement performed on the body, heals the whole instead of just the strained parts/area.

    I learnt some gentle exercises from you of a shoulder strain and it made a difference following these gentle movements and being with my body throughout to heal it.

    I love connective tissue sessions in general, and to add body movement, is not only powerfully healing but offers a deeper form of healing. The practitioner/professional and patient/client are together as one in this healing.

    More of our physio’s should be offering this to our patients, the healing is deeper and lasts longer than just fixing the physical problem. It feels the responsibility relies on the patient/client to help themselves too instead of expecting to be fixed. There is much more to healing than we realise, much to ponder over.

  2. Whatever work we do, it’s important we continue to evolve, with greater awareness we bring more to our work with patients, clients and customers. We’re never at standstill.

  3. True physiotherapy is founded on integrating the way we work and live into one harmonious whole. Beautiful.

  4. “The body has a remarkable intelligence to continually heal and bring itself to a greater level of balance and harmony” – this makes me realise having a pain or restriction in the movement is not just an inconvenience, but is a part of bigger process, and simply fixing them won’t really address how and why of what is happening and true healing.

    1. Fumiyo, I agree. When the body is in pain, it is revealing to us that we have not lived lovingly and it is saying to us, stop! The question is, are we willing to listen and truly heal or are we willing to ignore and let the problem exacerbate – it responds dependent on our choices we make, it is that simple.

  5. ‘What was making me uneasy in treating in this standard way, was that it was not taking into account the body’s ability to heal itself.’ With our linear mental approach to problem solving we are negating the awesome science where the body is actually designed to self-heal. Understanding that it is our choices that block this healing process opens to doorway to a truly holistic way of treating and healing. Issues within my body have supported me so much to look deeper into what my choices have been, some of them buried. The only way I have got to them is through the signals my body has been giving me. To me, increasingly normal – once upon a time I would have said this is something miraculous and indeed this is how I feel about the healing that has been offered and which I have accepted.

  6. What I feel I am reading here is the evolution of physiotherapy. From a sole focus on physical function, compartmentalisation of the body into parts, and the at times imposing way of correcting or forcing the body back to function, there is the wholistic approach of assessing and treating the whole body, the connective tissue, the impact of how we live and move, as well as respect for how the body heals itself. In that we also have the inner being that often operates contra to the natural harmony and gentleness of the body.

  7. Our narrow focus on isolated body systems is not the whole answer, when you consider how joined up the whole human body is, it makes sense to take a whole body approach and include the emotions as well as the physical … in this way we are more able to work with and genuinely support the body in what is needed.

  8. As a Physiotherapist myself I greatly value the noble profession of Physiotherapy and everything it offers people in the way of support already, however it is good to keep exploring and investigating how we can develop our practice in a way that supports our clients even more as you have done here Kate.

  9. Understanding the bodies have a remarkable intelligence and a truly extraordinary ability to actually heal is like finding a Rosetta Stone of awareness within… It makes everything makes sense

  10. I have been having a severe back pain for the past few days and it was great in the beginning because it was making me pay more attention, go more gentle and careful in my movement, but today, it has gotten worse and I was just wondering why. “The body has a remarkable intelligence to continually heal and bring itself to a greater level of balance and harmony” – so true, and imposition does not work. And now I am wondering whether I was going ahead of my body without giving it space to do what it needed to do, and as you say there are other factors to consider as well.

  11. The body’s ability to self heal is pretty amazing, and how this is what it is always working to do: maintaining harmony as its baseline status quo. When we get the ‘I want’ or ‘I should’ out of the way, it does this quite naturally.

  12. “What was making me uneasy in treating in this standard way, was that it was not taking into account the body’s ability to heal itself.” So often when we have aches and pains they are symptoms of an imbalance in our emotional or energetic body and with gentleness in how we treat ourselves our body starts the process of self-healing which can then be supported by the equal gentleness of a physiotherapist.

  13. How amazing physiotherapy would be as a practical modality if as standard, students were shown the beneficial effects of gentleness.

  14. I love your holistic approach to physiotherapy. We can not just look at one part of the body and ignore the rest, including the bodies energetic state and psychological state because it is all connected.

  15. I love the way you look at treating the body as a whole and not looking to fix a part, but to see the depth of the problem and how the client themselves is also part of this and the healing process too.

  16. “What was making me uneasy in treating in this standard way, was that it was not taking into account the body’s ability to heal itself.” I went to the physio yesterday and had your blog in my thoughts as I was there. He was a physiotherapist who approached the body in the way you have described here and my body felt great relief that this was a practitioner who respected the body’s ability to heal itself. Thank heaven for practitioners who step away from the superiority complex of their education to bring it to the equality of the intelligence of the body they are working with.

    1. I know that ‘superiority complex’ well. as well as in physios I have seen it in other places, including at times in my own life. It is a hallmark of getting sucked into to thinking we are the ones with all the answers, rather than the humility of knowing we are all part of a far bigger whole, realising that in order to truly serve we need to keep observing and deepening our understanding and awareness, and surrendering to the fact that life will always present us with opportunities to be constantly learning.
      It is a blessing being treated by someone who is dedicated to working in the way Kate Greenaway-Twist is.

  17. I love how simple it is to consider the body as a whole – what is going on emotionally for a client as well as physically. To not consider this is to reduce life to what we do which misses so much of the why we do what we do which, as you say, looks at the deeper causes.

  18. Recently as a result of a referral, I had a phone conversation with a physiotherapist on the back of which I was emailed a set of exercises to follow. Just looking at the electronic demo made me panic as I could feel how inappropriate it would be for my body. I had to insist on receiving a physical assessment of my body.
    It would be awesome if the basic training for physiotherapists and other health professions covered the depth of understanding and care shared about here.

  19. There is a huge difference between focusing on bringing relief to a body and being from an ill-momentum and working with the body and being’s innate intelligence, as such the opportunity to truly address and heal an ill-momentum that in turn offers real support for us to evolve. The fact is that our systems in every sector of our society generally focus on providing relief, which is clearly not working and what you have presented here Kate is precisely what we need, to be open to working with more of the wisdom and intelligence of our body as this impacts every aspect of our lives, and all of us.

  20. Any practitioner will tell you (if they are honest) that when a client walks into their treatment room or clinic they are bringing their whole being with them and everything this means in terms of their emotional and spiritual issues or dilemmas, not just a sore arm or leg or back etc. And yet most Physiotherapists will try and just make it about the physical (because that is what we are trained to do) and will do their best to avoid or ignore the other aspects, even though they are impossible to really ignore or avoid. So no wonder there is stress, tension and exhaustion in practitioners!

  21. As for anything in life, the gentle approach may not bring that quick fix so we can carry on as we are. But it does help us shift gears and change how we are living over time so that we don’t get burnt out and ill from our excessive ways.

    1. Yes Leigh I agree. When we begin to honour the true quality of who we are in any aspect of life, what is offered is the truth from which we then know what changes or adjustments are needed or what needs deepening.

  22. I really love the first point about not imposing on a clients body but letting the natural healing process do its thing, this is very important for all modalities because at the end of the day the body heals itself and the practitioner is there to assist this and get whatever is in the way of this out of the way.

    1. Our bodies are such complex, intelligent things in their own right, able to regulate, adapt, heal… and equally tell us when something is not working, in dis-ease. We just have to learn to listen!

  23. Striving to achieve goals and outcomes in life doesn’t work, be it in physiotherapy, any healing modality, in relationships or in life generally.

    1. There is a huge difference between when we strive to achieve a preconceived picture, and in contrast when we choose to remain open, observe and respond to what is required with each unfolding moment. You only have to consider the difference between the two scenarios to recognise the debilitating limitation of the former.

  24. “Many patients say to me now that they are often more sore for days or weeks after they have had standard physiotherapy treatment than they were before.”- I can certainly attest to experiencing this same thing AFTER physiotherapy when I was beating my body up with multiple sports activities. I always felt like even though the physio’s did a good job, they were kind of trying to put a square peg into a round hole with their approach, and when a patient did not fit into the image they had based on their training, they would pretty much force the method in a way. It comes down to the patient not giving their power away in this instance and allowing themselves to feel what is right for them too in their treatment.

    1. If we don’t consider the patient and what is right for their body – letting their body lead the way – it is true, it is incredibly imposing and would make sense for the body to fight back, only giving the impression of cooperation at the time just to get out of the perceived danger of imposition.

  25. Awesome to read of your steady unfolding to knowing that there must be more than treating a single part, and to embrace an understanding of the whole picture. This understanding is transformative when we choose to live from that awareness of the whole.

  26. This makes so much sense to me. How can the body truly heal if we are to only look at the physical and treat the body by manipulation to fix it? We think by moving parts of the body into place we’re getting somewhere but what caused or is causing the body to be in pain or discomfort in the first place? Surely there are others factors at play we need to address and consider in the healing and wellbeing of the client.

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