How do I know WHEN to see a physiotherapist, and what can I expect?

I’m often asked when is the right time to see a physio? People are understandably cautious about making appointments for minor problems, yet also risk prolonging pain and suffering by not acting soon enough.

So when is the optimum time?

A simple rule of thumb is to answer these questions:

  1. Are you in pain?
  2. Are you a little stiff, finding it a little bit hard to move but do not have any pain with every day movements?
  3. Are you moving well without issues, no stiffness or difficulty?

If you answered YES for any of these, see your physio immediately. A lot of people put off their visit to the physio thinking “…I’ll give it time, the pain will subside”. But if you are in genuine, lasting pain it’s possible the injury will worsen and you will only prolong pain and suffering.

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Many injuries require treatment for adequate recovery. A physio should identify the source of the pain, and put steps into place for a recovery.

If the stiffness/tightness remains after 24-48 hours then see your physiotherapist. If at any point the stiffness changes to become actual pain then, like point one, see your physio immediately. If the stiffness disappears after 24-48 hours it’s a good sign that the body can heal naturally from the increased load being placed on it. But stiffness/tightness can create bad movement patterns which cause bad habits leading to pain. Getting it examined as a preventative measure can often solve the problem in fewer sessions than if it graduates to genuine pain.

If you are maintaining your highest level of activity – exercise, recreation, work and study without any pain or stiffness you only need to see a physio every 3-4 months per year. If you’re excellent then every 6 months.

What should I expect from physiotherapy?

Firstly, you should expect to see some improvement in three sessions or fewer with your physio. A bad injury may take longer to get over, but there should be some tangible improvement in that time.

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If you suffer from chronic pain you should at least sense that there is not only some level of improvement, but that there is a plan in place for you to follow.

For those who do not experience improvement in three sessions or fewer, I recommend getting a second opinion with a different physio.

Secondly, a physio should provide you with specific exercises to aid your recovery. After the first or second visit there should be an exercise plan in place, which may involve exercise to be done at home, at your gym or in a hydrotherapy pool.

Finally, your physiotherapist should inform you of the ways they are measuring your improvement. There will be certain tests being conducted which reveal your improvement, all as part of a broader plan to recovery.


Tell us, when was the last time you went to the physio?