Years ago, someone would feel a ‘niggle’ in their knee or shoulder and the answer of what to do would be obvious – go see their doctor. Now, there are SO many options and varieties of movement specialists – chiropractors, osteopaths, massage therapists, acupuncturists and physiotherapists. The question is, who to see and when or why to see them?
Physiotherapists are exercise scientists, they study and understand the musculo-skeletal system (your muscles, ligaments, bones & joints). Every physical therapist is different, just as every client is different. Physical therapists have their own style of assessment and treatment and can even specialize (pelvic, vestibular, hand, etc.). At its core though, Physical therapy is defined as: “care that aims to ease pain and help you function, move, and live better.”
Here are the top 5 reasons to seek out a physio:
- Pain (acute & chronic)
Easily the number one reason people come in to seek physiotherapy treatment is due to pain. Whether it is acute pain (new over the last couple of days or weeks) or chronic pain (lasting >2-3 months), especially when it is affecting people’s ability to perform day to day functions or activities they love.
Acute pain is usually accompanied by swelling, tenderness to touch, redness or bruising, and other signs of damage or inflammation. If an ankle, knee or hip is acutely injury it may be difficult to stand or take steps without spikes of pain.
Chronic pain lasts longer, even after the injury has healed. Chronic pain can be a dull ache, throbbing, burning, shooting, squeezing, stinging, or stiffness sensation. It is generally different for everyone and can affect more than just your physical body; it can affect your mental health, sleep, fatigue levels, and appetite. Chronic pain, if left untreated, can interfere with daily life and create a vicious cycle of pain and depression/anxiety. Chronic pain can be complex, but physiotherapy can help – help your self-esteem, your mood, your strength and it can help you take control again. In most cases it is best to take a multidiscipline approach which may consist of a team of your doctor, physiotherapist, chiropractor, counsellor, and/or nutritionist.
- Pre- and Post-Surgery
Another main reason people seek out physio is before or after surgery. In many cases, surgeons want to ensure that less invasive (non-surgical) options are tried first and keep surgery as the last option.
Pre-surgery physiotherapy is primarily to begin to strengthen the muscles for better outcomes post -surgery and a faster recovery. By putting in the work and priming the muscles and joints prior to surgery, the motor patterns are already engrained, so that post-surgery exercises have a head start. Exercises from physio can also help boost lung and heart function, which also helps with surgical recovery. The pre-surgery exercises can help decrease pain and increase function; in some cases, the recovery can reduce the need for surgery at all.
Physio prior to surgery has been shown to improve long term outcomes and quality of life (both before and after surgery).
Post-surgery physio is done to re-strengthen muscles, improve range of motion and increase
function of a joint. Once the problem is surgically fixed, a physiotherapist will work with you to
get you back to what you want and need to be doing to return to normal life and/or back to
sports & activities.
- Injury Prevention
As the profession of physiotherapy continues to grow and expand, more and more emphasis has been placed on injury prevention for athletes, and weekend warriors. People are beginning to take a more pro-active approach to their joint health, physical health and muscle balances. During an athletes’ off season, they focus on weaknesses they found during the season or movement patterns that caused more stress on the joints. Working to fix the issues so it doesn’t hinder them later. Many athletes will come in for a pre-season screen as well – to see if there are any imbalances or mobility issues. Again, to start working on them BEFORE any pain or issues arise. Anyone who has begun a new sport and felt new strains have been coming into see their physio prior to it becoming an issue or experiencing pain.
More and more athletes and people have been seeking physiotherapy services before a movement, joint or muscle has become painful, so they can avoid injuries and missing out on their seasons or events.
- Improve Independence
For older adults, independence is everything. Being able to physically manage staying in their own homes. To not be a burden or a bother to loved ones. Older adults may seek out physiotherapy to decrease the pain in their joints so moving around the house and the community isn’t such a chore. They may work alongside their physical therapist to regain or maintain strength to do stairs, get up off the toilet or out of their comfy chair. Older adults may reap the benefit of balance work with the physiotherapist to feel comfortable moving around their house without a gait aid (cane, walker), getting in and out of showers and tubs (being on one foot) and navigating ice and snow outside. The main goals being to increase confidence in themselves and independence.
- Improve Performance (mobility and strength)
Now more and more people are beginning to seek out physiotherapy services to ‘up their game.’ Whether they have plateaued in their training or sport of choice, and they need something to get them to the next level, or an injury keeps recurring. Usually this type of physiotherapy involves working on mobility and control at end ranges of motion so there is less compensations happening elsewhere (those compensations could later lead to injuries if not fixed). The physical therapist takes more of a ‘big picture’ approach, looking at the entire body and movement patterns through the entire system, versus focusing on the joint that hurts or limb that has been injured. This more holistic look at the body helps uncover movement restrictions that may not have been the source of symptoms but could be the core problem. Uncovering these restrictions may be the key to unlocking an athlete’s potential, help them set a PR in weightlifting, shave an extra second off in a time trial, or be the difference between winning and losing.
There are MANY reasons to seek out a physiotherapist – even if you’re not in pain.