What is physiotherapy?

One of our patients asked us to clarify exactly what Physiotherapy was for our service users, and so one of our Co-founders Anthony Burns put together this article to help provide clarity, guidance and tips on what to expect when you go to see a Physiotherapist.

What is physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is a science-based profession and Physiotherapists are experts in assessing and treating muscle, bone, and joint problems, also known as MSK or musculoskeletal injuries (physio’s also treat many other issues). MSK Physiotherapists will assess you thoroughly for around 40-60 minutes and then work out an evidence based treatment plan specifically for your problem, consisting of exercise, manual therapy, education, and advice. There are other treatments available to Physiotherapists such as taping, electrotherapy and acupuncture and the effectiveness of these treatments are hotly debated amongst Physiotherapists and in the wider clinical community.

Where can I access physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is widely available in both the private health sector and via the NHS. Physiotherapists are first contact practitioners and so they have the skills and abilities to treat a wide range of physical and mental health related problems and are trained to assess signs of serious issues that may need a medical opinion. You can seek Physiotherapy on the NHS but you may need a referral from your GP to get this (and this can take time) although many new roles in GP surgeries are being funded to increase access to Physiotherapy – in some areas you can access Physiotherapy direct on the NHS but this differs from region to region. If you want to access treatment privately there are many different providers – there are national providers who provide direct Physiotherapy appointments at their private hospitals, gyms, clubs or fitness and wellbeing centres – you can often book for the same or next day for an appointment with these providers. Or you can attend your local private Physiotherapy practice which are often run by a small number of clinicians and practitioners and again appointment availability at these clinics is often excellent. The benefits to accessing this route is the speed at which your issue can be assessed – but obviously this will incur costs (see below) which would not be the case on the NHS.

Are they a specialist in my problem?

This does not mean that the Physiotherapist only deals with one area, or one injury type that makes them a specialist. Physiotherapists often specialise within various “umbrellas” of problems, for example some will specialise in bones and muscles (MSK), whereas others might specialise in joint inflammation and fatigue (Rheumatology) or treating nerve and brain related conditions (Neurological). A quick look over their website or a phone call should help you answer this question based on our advice.

Where are they based and what appointments are available?

While you cannot always guarantee to get the exact appointment you want, seeing someone whose clinic hours and location fit around your lifestyle can make a big difference. If treatment and rehabilitation start to become inconvenient and impacting on the rest of your life, you are less likely to stick it out and fully recover. This might mean finding someone close to home or work, or near your children’s school, so that you can attend the appointments without too much disruption.

How much will it cost?

This can vary greatly, depending on the practice you go to, the experience of the Physiotherapist, the length of the appointment and the area in which you live. The average cost for an initial appointment is £40-£60 (It can be much more expensive in the south east of England). If you have medical insurance, Physiotherapy practices should have agreements already in place with your insurer and should bill them directly (unless you have a cash plan policy).

How are physiotherapist’s regulated?

To call yourself a Physiotherapist, you must have a degree qualification from a recognised higher education institute. This can be either a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Master of Science (MSc). All physiotherapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practice in the UK. This is the governing body for Physiotherapists and ensures that professionals adhere to the HCPC standards of care provision. A selection of Physiotherapists on the HCPC register are audited annually.

Physiotherapists can choose to be a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). This is the professional, educational and trade union body for all Chartered Physiotherapists. This is also a good place to search for a registered Physiotherapist local to you. Being a member might appear next to their name as MCSP.

How long should a course of treatment last?

A course of treatment should last around six sessions (unless you have a complex issue like a broken bone) – if your problem is not settling after this time you should seek to clarify why the Physiotherapist thinks your issue may not be settling and work out a plan from there. For instance – if you have a chronic problem (an issue that has been going on for many years) it may not be feasible to “fix” or “cure” your problem – but even in this instance a course of treatment should start with a goal to be able to help you self-manage your problem so that you can manage effectively any “flare ups” that you may get so that after your sixth treatment session you may not be “cured” but you are much better equipped to understand your condition and have strategies to help manage and control the problem in the future, without the need to keep paying for future Physiotherapy appointments. Some people, for example those recovering from knee ligament surgery, may need Physiotherapy lasting between 9-12 months and so a treatment plan in this instance would be much longer.

How many sessions will I need?

All problems and people are different, so this is based entirely on what the Physiotherapist finds from their initial assessment, what diagnosis you are given and what your goals are. Most Physiotherapists will not make you commit to a set number of sessions and will treat and advise you based on what they see at each session but as discussed above – at six sessions if you are not improving (or your issue is worsening) you need to discuss this with your Physiotherapist.

Tips for your appointments and treatment

If you have a lower limb problem always make sure you take some shorts with you and if you have an upper limb problem always make sure you are wearing a top or bra that you would feel comfortable wearing in front of someone you have just met.

If you are accessing Physiotherapy through your private medical insurer always make sure you have contacted them and discussed it through with them and that you have authorisation in place – usually this will mean you have an authorisation code so you can prove to your healthcare provider that you have authorisation from your insurer.

It is often helpful to have a physical goal in mind that you would like to achieve during your course of treatment – opening a garage door, gardening or climbing Ben Nevis – that way you can gauge progress and each clinician involved in your care has knowledge and visibility of the clear goal that you are working towards.

Also, should you use our online service, we will send you a password protected PDF document of your completed clinical form that you submitted to us (if you wish us to do so). This way, you can email it to your Physiotherapist prior to your appointment, thus ensuring that you maximise the time you have during your appointment as this will save you 10-15 minutes by providing in advance, a significant amount of information that your Physiotherapist will need (please let them know if anything has changed).

Conclusion

Physiotherapists play a vital role in treating a vast array of different injuries and conditions and are involved in almost every facet of healthcare delivery. Physiotherapy treatment is possible via various different routes but patients often tell us that it’s often difficult to know what is the appropriate first step, because injuries can be complex. So how do you know you’re seeing the correct clinician if you don’t know what your issue is? That’s how our online service can help, simply fill in a form and we’ll help get you started by taking a detailed look at where you are in your recovery and what your likely issue is, and offer appropriate advice on next steps (which may be to trial physiotherapy) – all for free, it’s as simple as that.