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What to expect from your first physiotherapy appointment

In partnership with Physiotherapist Chris Morton

7 minute read
Man attending a physio appointment

With so many expert clinicians who can help us with aches, pains and injuries, it’s hard to know what to expect from your first visit with a physiotherapist.

What do physios do? Do you need to wear special clothing? Will you be asked to do star jumps or touch your toes? And once you go, will you be expected to continue going every week?

We spoke with Physiotherapist Chris Morton from Ethos Health to find out what you can expect when you go to a physio for the first time.

Related: Who should I see for what? The doctor dictionary

Preparing for a physiotherapy appointment FAQs

Do I need a referral?

You don’t need a referral to see a physiotherapist, just call to make an appointment or book online. You may be asked a few general questions over the phone regarding your injury to help the physio prepare for your appointment and this phone call also gives you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have.

Need to find a physio, but not sure where to start? Check out our First Choice Network; it's our community of specially selected health providers, who have promised they will deliver quality care and value for money.

What should I bring?

Chris recommends that if you have any scans, x-rays, referral letters (from other healthcare professionals) or reports related to the reason for seeking out an appointment, you should try and take them along with you. It’s a good idea to get to your first appointment 10 minutes early so you can fill in any paperwork.

At nib, we have a number of Extras covers that include benefits for physiotherapy, so if you’re already covered1 take your nib card to your appointment and scan your card to claim on the spot. Alternatively, you can submit a claim using the nib App.

Not yet an nib member? You can get a quote for Extras cover in minutes online.

What should I wear?

“Wear or bring clothing that allows the injured body part and its surrounding body parts to be easily seen by your physio,” says Chris.

If you feel uncomfortable wearing this type of clothing into the clinic, you can always pack them in a bag and get changed when you arrive.

“Packing shorts or leggings and a singlet is ideal as we need to see both the area of pain and the adjacent body parts.”

“If your pain is associated with something like running, it’s a good idea to bring in your joggers so we can see if they’re contributing.”

Your physio should explain your diagnosis in terms you can understand.

What should I expect during my appointment?

Initial conversation

You’ll begin by discussing the reason for your appointment and how your symptoms developed. Don’t leave anything out – it could end up being important and be assured that your physio is trained to ask the questions that will get all of the required information!

Physical examination

“We usually get the patient to go through a series of movements, and depending on the injury we’ll also perform a sequence of physical tests,” says Chris. “It could be looking at how much movement a person has, how strong or flexible they are in certain areas, or testing the different muscles, ligaments and tendons.”

Diagnosis

“A conversation and questions, along with a physical examination, are usually enough for the physio to arrive at a diagnosis, without the need for additional scans, x-rays or blood tests,” says Chris. “Your physio should explain your diagnosis in terms you can understand.”

Treatment plan

Your physiotherapist will develop a treatment plan with you that could incorporate a number of different options that are best suited to you and your symptoms. They can also give you a referral for further imaging – for example, an x-ray – if required.

Female having an appointment with her physio

What kind of treatment techniques do physiotherapists use?

Education

“Our fundamental treatment tool is education,” says Chris. “If someone doesn’t leave the appointment with an understanding of what’s going on and what they can do, that’s a failed consult.”

Therapeutic exercises

Your physio is likely to give you a series of rehabilitation exercises to perform during the appointment and then continue to do at home.

Manual therapy (hands-on treatment)

This could include massage, joint mobilisation or joint manipulation (where you hear a ‘click’ or ‘crack’). They may also do some dry needling to release muscle spasm and relieve pain.

Taping or bracing

A physio may brace a joint to keep it stable and supported after you leave the appointment. Similarly taping around a joint or over a painful body part can help in managing your symptoms.

What should I do after my appointment?

  • Follow your treatment plan: Follow your physiotherapist’s advice regarding your activity at home, at work and during exercise, and do any exercises you’ve been given. “It’s the physio’s role to empower you and ensure you have the knowledge, skills and resources to look after yourself after the consult,” says Chris
  • Address underlying risk factors: Your injury may be caused by performing an everyday movement incorrectly, so don’t be surprised if the physio asks to watch you walk, run or pick something up from the floor, or even take a photo of your workstation setup at home or work. “We’ll then work with you to develop a better technique, thus retraining movement patterns that aren’t helpful,” explains Chris.
If someone doesn’t leave the appointment with an understanding of what’s going on and what they can do, that’s a failed consult.

How many sessions will I need?

Different people and different injuries require different amounts of treatment. However, if you don’t feel like you’re improving after three sessions, Chris suggests discussing with your physiotherapist whether there’s something that needs further support, investigation or referral to another healthcare professional. Time may be all that is required but it is important to seek advice if you are not improving.

“Our job is to partner with you to put in place strategies and tools to reduce and minimise the problem,” Chris says.

“Our aim is to eventually make ourselves redundant.”

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan, so for personalised advice, it’s best to make an appointment with your health professional.

At nib, we’re passionate about making sure you continue prioritising your health needs, which is why we’re temporarily paying benefits towards physiotherapy telehealth appointments as an alternative to your traditional in-clinic consultations.2 For more information, check out our article, How to access and claim on telehealth appointments.

Keen to find out more about Extras cover and the types of benefits you may be eligible for? Check out our article Taking the confusion out of Extras cover.

1Subject to you having served your waiting periods, and having sufficient annual limits remaining.

2Subject to your chosen level of cover, policy exclusions, waiting periods and limits. nib will cover appropriate treatment using telehealth for eligible members as a temporary measure that will be in place until 30 September 2020. A telehealth consultation will only be provided where it is safe and clinically appropriate, so please check with your provider to see if this is something they're able to do.

About Chris Morton

Chris Morton is a Physiotherapist, Business Manager and Clinical Educator at Ethos Health, a Newcastle-based allied health business. In addition to a clinical and consulting caseload, Chris presents regularly at professional development events to doctors and physiotherapists, and teaches to undergraduate physiotherapy students at The University of Newcastle.

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