When is the Right Time to See a Physiotherapist?

When it comes injuries or chronic pain affecting daily functioning physical therapy is often best option. Learn when should see physiotherapist & how they help.

When is the Right Time to See a Physiotherapist?

When it comes to injuries or chronic pain that affects your daily functioning, physical therapy is often the best option. A doctor may refer you to physical therapy after surgery, such as hip arthroplasty, or after an event, such as a heart attack or stroke. Most people, at some point in their lives, will work with a physical therapist. You may have been referred to one after a car accident, after surgery, or to treat low back pain. Physical therapists work with patients with all types of conditions or limitations.

Doctors or other health and social care professionals often refer people to physical therapy. In some countries, such as Canada and Australia, physical therapists are even part of the triage system in emergency departments. We are often asked when someone should see a physical therapist. It's understandable that people expect some aches and pains to resolve on their own over time. But if left untreated, things could get worse.

The answer is more complex than you might think at first. By mechanical we mean a problem that is increased by different tensions. For example, knee pain that gets worse when going up and down stairs or ankle pain that gets worse when running. It can be back pain that gets worse when you bend down and pick things up. If there are competent mechanics for your pain, there's a good chance a physical therapist can help. Patients often tell us: “I should have come to see you earlier”.

It's a difficult thing to judge, as many of us have aches and pains that usually resolve within a few days. If it's a mechanical problem, it can be pain that's only associated with a particular sport or activity. Therefore, patients will leave the pain for a while in the hope that it will resolve and improve on its own. Pains that don't get better or even get worse on their own may require the involvement of a physical therapist. Or at least an evaluation or diagnosis to understand how long it will take for you to get better and the things you can do to make the recovery process easier. Some problems, such as Achilles tendon pain, may go away with rest but get worse every time you try to return to sports activities, such as running.

If so, then strengthening and rehabilitation may be the key, and this is where a physical therapist can be of great help. Acute-onset neck and back pain may respond very well to physical therapy. GPs are often difficult to see and will be limited in the time and resources they can provide. If you wake up with severe neck pain or have sudden low back pain that makes it difficult for you to function, go to work, or sleep, it's best to see a physical therapist who can treat you right away and evaluate you. They can make a diagnosis and advise you on the best way to reduce pain and get you back to working fully as soon as possible. They will also examine you for any signs of serious underlying pathology which may require you to go to A&E or to a specialist doctor. Many pains can be quite insidious and little by little they prevent us from doing activities or we gradually abandon activities due to a restriction of movement, weakness or pain.

Many times people feel unable to return to playing a sport after an injury because they perceive that they are too weak or are re-injured. Physical therapy can be extremely effective in these circumstances. We'll evaluate you to see if there is any muscle weakness that can be improved with exercise. Proprioception - body position, central balance and coordination - often underlies why people feel unstable or vulnerable when performing an activity. Physical therapy can be great for addressing these deficits and helping you get back to your sports and activities. If any of the above situations apply to you, there's a good chance we can help.

If you are concerned about a client's pain or mobility, or if they have suffered an injury or surgery, referring them to a physical therapist is often recommended. If you've ever had an illness or injury that has affected your ability to move or perform daily tasks, your doctor may have referred you to a physical therapist to help you recover. In general, if a child does not have an inflammatory rheumatic condition he/she should be referred to physical therapy because there is concern for normal variants (e.g., arched legs, sagging knees, flat feet). Or if you have a chronic condition such as arthritis your doctor may refer you to physical therapy to help manage pain and maintain mobility. If you are referred to a physical therapist you should be aware that you do not need to see a doctor first. Physiopedia articles are best used to find the original sources of information (see the list of references at the end of the article).

If you believe that this Physiopedia article is the primary source of the information you are referring to then use the button below for access related citation statement. In these cases physician assistant should not be required and physical therapists should be able to consult directly with specialists in their area. For example if you've recently been injured or had surgery your doctor may refer you to physical therapy help regain movement and function.

Sean Mraz
Sean Mraz

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