Does Physiotherapy Really Work?

Physiotherapy can “work” for a wide variety of musculoskeletal aches and pains. But what does “work” mean?

It could mean increased range of motion of your joints. 
It could mean increased muscle flexibility.
It could mean increased muscle strength.
It could mean increased muscle endurance.
It could mean better general health (cardiovascular health, bone health, mental health, etc).

That’s all fine and dandy, but it could also mean :

Increased quality of life. 
Getting back to your favourite sport or activity as soon as you can.
Modifying your life activities to serve your goals better.
Guiding you through an unfamiliar injury to ease your worries and address your concerns.
Knowing how long it will take you to recover.
Feeling more confident during your recovery process. 
Managing your pain better.

How do we do all this?

Physiotherapy Assessment

The first step is the personalized assessment of you! We first talk and chat… a lot. We talk about your area of pain or area of concern, but we also want to know about you! What made you decide to book your appointment? What’s your occupation? What sports or exercise do you do? What do you do in your free time? What’s your medical history or history of injuries? Do you have a dog? (*Actually, it’s often a very relevant question*) What symptoms do you experience? What makes those symptoms worse? Is there anything that you’ve found that makes your symptoms better?

Then we take a look at how you move, both by how you’re able to move your body, and how easily we can move your joints. We will look at the areas of the concern, but potentially also some other nearby areas in your body too. We will check in with you to see how you’re feeling along the way, which helps us to better understand how you move and what symptoms you are experiencing. You know your body best, and we’re just trying to get a crash course in how you move so we can understand you as best as possible to help you build a better treatment plan. 

Physiotherapy Treatment

Physiotherapy services include a variety of treatment options. This may result in one physiotherapist treating quite differently than another physiotherapist. In general, physiotherapy will involve the following treatment options which will be used to varying degrees:

  1. Education: How long will it take to get better? What is the meaning of pain? Why do I get weird tingling sensations? Is it safe for me to push through pain, or not? Are there other tools I can use at home to help myself with my injury or pain? Is heat or cold more appropriate? Do I need to change my exercise routine? Should I rest? If I’ve been resting, how do I get going again? How can I sleep better? Do you need a cane to walk better? Would taping be helpful? Is (any random pain relief object/cream) worth buying? Will a brace help me? …. And any other questions you could possibly think of. The answers to these often depend on our personalized assessment!
  2. Exercise: This could involve injury/pain specific exercises to help your site of pain get better, or it could be exercises away from the injury site to keep you moving in the meantime. It could be range of motion exercises, stretching, or loading/strengthening/resistance exercises. We could modify what you’re currently doing for exercise. This also may mean finding a local sport or activity that you are interested in doing for general exercise/increasing your activity level as well (even if it’s a daily walk!).
  3. Other passive treatment options: While the above two are the most important, sometimes there are treatments we can provide that are passive (meaning we do all the work, you get to relax!). Passive range of motion, massage techniques, cupping, acupuncture, or even providing a heating pad falls into this category. When it’s tough to get moving on your own, these strategies can help in some cases. 

Now the tricky part with self managing your injuries, or turning to “Dr. Google”, is that it’s hard to know what the appropriate treatment is until you do the assessment! Often when clients come in to the clinic with a diagnosis, it tells us very little about what they can or can’t do in the assessment, until we actually look at it. Once we establish your abilities, we can take the appropriate first steps in treatment and help guide you through the process of recovery. The other tricky part of “just using some exercises I found online”, is you may need different exercises at different times of your recovery process! For example, someone in excruciating pain and can’t walk is probably not going to do the exact same exercise program as someone who is wrapping up their recovery on their way to a high level return to a sport – even if their injury is the same. 

So, does physiotherapy really work?

Yes, it really does. But just like trying a new diet – it only works if you put in the work. 

There are some instances where physiotherapy won’t bring you to 100% recovery. This could be in cases where you have other ongoing biopsychosocial factors impacting your recovery or a genuine need for surgery, for example. Sometimes you need to reteach your brain how it interprets pain, or implement different stress-reduction strategies (or other lifestyle changes). 

Commitment is what it takes to make physiotherapy work. Meeting regularly with your physiotherapist, being honest about how your recovery is going, and doing your physio homework is how you gain success. Commitment to your recovery from your physiotherapist, and commitment to your recovery from yourself will help you come back from your injury even stronger than you were before. 

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