During your first visit, you will be asked about your current problem and the impact on your life and activities. Your physical therapist will want to know about previous injuries, overall health, and physical goals. They will then perform a physical examination to determine what anatomy is at the source of the pain and what underlying factors may be contributing to the problem, such as weakness or biomechanical problems. From then on, your physical therapist will discuss the results and consider treatment options with you to achieve your goals. The treatment plan is tailored specifically to you. You are special to us. Follow-up sessions will continue the treatment process and any adjustments, depending on how you present yourself, can be incorporated into the plan.
Before your physio appointment make sure you know WHY you are going to see them and how they may be able to help. Knowing your purpose will help you get down to business once in the appointment. Most physiotherapists have a finite amount of time to spend with their patients so being clear with your purpose well help you maximize your time and theirs! I once had a patient come in complaining of dry eyes and, after a minute of discussion, I had to kindly remind her that I was a physiotherapist not an optometrist :).At the same time, it is also important to think about your goals. Not only goals of the initial appointment (what do you want to leave understanding or having accomplished?) but also, long term goals. This will help to make any assessment and treatment more specific and meaningful to you.
For example, if I had a dime for every time someone responded, “to be pain free” when asked about their goals-I tell ya! Yes, being pain free is a goal but really think about the concept of SMART goals- Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. Is pain-free realistic for everyone in every case? No, not really. Think about your specific case and limitations that may exist. Someone with a 10-year versus a 3-day history of low back pain has a very different prognosis. Put a bit of time in and think about your specific goals before you arrive. Example: I want to participate in my 2-hour rec volleyball league within the next 8 weeks. Now that sounds like something we can tackle!
Giving your physiotherapist a good health history can be a game changer! A clinical picture is created through their knowledge, their clinical experience and your reported history. The more clues you can give, the more likely the puzzle will come together quickly and clearly. One of my mentors always jokes that ‘if you listen long enough, the patient will tell you what is wrong’ and it is so true! Don’t underestimate the importance of what you tell us! We don’t need a full autobiography but jot down the following things so that when asked, you have all the details.
Medications- Name, dosage and why you take it
Other medical conditions you have been diagnosed with, including any mental health, genetic or congenital conditions.
Past injuries or surgeries- yes, even c-sections count here!
Family history- Think about conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis
It’s ok not to know everything! It is totally NORMAL not to know everything. A simple way to keep you from feeling overwhelmed is to write down a few questions you may have before your physio appointment. Health issues can be scary and daunting so having some key questions answered can be a real comfort. Having them written down will ensure you don’t forget anything and ensure you leave the appointment feeling empowered. Which brings me to my next point…
As much as it is totally tempting these days, try to avoid the ‘ole self-diagnosis. Not only can this significantly increase your stress but often Doctor Google misses key details that a physiotherapist won’t. Go into your physio appointments with an open mind and trust that your physio’s extensive education and human brain will be your best bet. I am more than comfortable having people consider things once we have discussed their condition or injury but always warn them that every person and issue is VERY unique and the Internet cannot account for each case. We also cannot account for the accuracy and validity of the information.
Make sure that when you are going to your physio appointment, you wear something that makes it quick and easy for them to assess the area. If you are dealing with a lower body issue: bring shorts, your regular footwear and any orthotic and braces you may use. For upper body, I always recommend women wear a tank top/sports bra and those with long hair have it pulled back in a ponytail. This can be SO helpful when putting together a clinical picture!
Do not underestimate the power of the therapeutic relationship you have with your physiotherapist, or healthcare practitioner in general. If you don’t feel like they are right for you then it is important to discuss this with them and/or your referral source. I never have a problem referring patients to practitioners that I feel would better suit their needs! So, shop around, get second opinions and trust your instincts- no one knows your body better than you!
The Physiotherapist will often need to look at the area concerned and with your consent; you may be asked to remove some clothing. It is often better to wear loose, comfortable clothing that can be easily taken on and off.