Making sense of physiotherapy....

Updated: Jul 10


Is physiotherapy right for me?

If you have pain or discomfort that you think may be coming from joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves or bones then coming to a physiotherapist is usually a good idea. A musculoskeletal physiotherapist  specialises in the assessment and treatment of these types of problems. Patrick is a specialist musculoskeletal physiotherapist.


Do I need to see my doctor first? 

Seeing a GP before coming to physiotherapy is not necessary. If you have a musculoskeletal problem coming to a physiotherapist first can be the most efficient way to help you get better. 


During the initial appointment if your physiotherapist feels your problem is not appropriate for physiotherapy, they will direct you back to your GP. However, this is very rare. 

Typically, physiotherapists have more specialist training in assessing musculoskeletal problems and they usually have more time during their appointments to carry out all the assessment that is needed. 


In some cases, things like blood tests, x-rays or scans (MRI or ultrasound) may be needed. This is where your physiotherapist will work with your GP to organise having the most suitable investigation done. Both the GP and the physiotherapist can help you make sense of the results of these investigations. 


Occasionally, the opinion of a specialist doctor may be sought, such as an orthopaedic or rheumatology consultant. This is another example of when your physiotherapist will communicate with your GP to make sure you see the right person. 


What should I expect at my first physiotherapy appointment?

Your first appointment will be a chance to explain in detail what is bothering you. It’s helpful to provide as much information as possible and your physiotherapist might prompt you about things like how long the issue has been going on for and how it started. 

Your physiotherapist will ask about your medical history and medications you take too. This can be useful information when trying to make a diagnosis. If you do take medications bringing a list of what you take is helpful.  


There will usually be some discussion about your current lifestyle as getting an idea of what you do on a day to day basis can help to understand how your problem is affecting you and it can also help when planning treatment strategies.  


There may also be some discussion about any previous experiences of physiotherapy you have had and you will be encouraged to mention any types of treatments you were hoping might be part of your physiotherapy sessions this time. For example, if someone doesn’t like needles acupuncture will not be part of their treatment, but equally, if someone has found that very helpful before it is more likely to be included. 


Once enough information has been gathered and you feel everything you have needed to say has been listened to it will be time for a physical examination. This will vary depending on your problem but usually it will involve watching you doing some movements, checking the range of movement of joints, the strength of muscles and the integrity of structures such as ligaments. Pressing different parts of the body, called palpation, is usually part of an assessment too. It is normal for your physiotherapist to examine more than just the body part causing you problems. If your physiotherapist is suspicious of a nerve related problem they will check things like sensation on the skin, muscle power and reflexes. 


You might be asked to do tasks that resemble things you do in real life, like bend over and pick something up if you’re working in a manual job or to hop on one leg if you’re a runner. 

It is really useful to wear clothing that allows your physiotherapist to see the body part that is bothering you. For example, if you have a knee problem wearing shorts or loose tracksuit bottoms is far more convenient than skinny jeans! 


What happens after my examination?

By the end of your examination your physiotherapist will have made their mind up about a diagnosis or a reason for your problem. Explaining this to you in language you understand is very important and sometimes pictures, videos or information leaflets may be used. Essentially, this is the first part of your treatment as understanding what’s causing your problem goes a long way towards getting on top of it. Outlining how long it takes for things to improve is also important and helps devise realistic plans.  


There is usually more than one way to tackle your problem and a discussion about planning your treatment is important. Your physiotherapist can explain to you which treatments have the most scientific evidence behind them and your own thoughts on what you think will be helpful are important too. 


Before leaving your first session it’s likely you will have started some sort of treatment, whether that’s coming up with an exercise progrmamme, doing some hands on work or even coming up with strategies to modify activities you’re already doing.     

This is an important time to ask any questions you have about what is going on. If you need things explained more clearly your physiotherapist will be happy to do this.  


What happens afterwards? 

Before you leave it will be clear how long it is expected to take for your problem to improve. Depending on what you agreed with your physiotherapist you should have an idea of how many sessions you need and how regular they need to be. There is no set formula for this but sessions once every week or two weeks in the early stages is typical and then the frequency may decrease. Booking in your next session is encouraged so that your issue can be monitored. 

Hopefully this outlines what to expect if you’re considering coming to your first appointment at Old Quarter Physiotherapy Clinic. If you would like to discuss anything in more detail you can give us a call on 083 38 200 63 or email patrickcarrollphysio@gmail.com. If you feel ready, you can book an appointment here.

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Old Quarter Physiotherpay Clinic, Old Fort Road,
Ballincollig, Cork, P31 YH66