GO THE DISTANCE
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
When do you see a physio?
Everyone can benefit from physiotherapy at any time. Everyone needs to use their bodies to interact with the world, for life, work, and for recreation. We use our physical capacity to do things that are necessary, and things that are relaxing. So long as we have that capacity, we can live life to the fullest extent that we can. Physiotherapy is a health science. Its primary focus is supporting the health of the human body, to minimise any discomfort, and to maximise a person's ability to engage with the world around them.
People in clinic often ask me if they should have come to see me sooner. Sometimes they ask if they should have come in even though there was no problem. Sometimes people say they regret that they didn't have their problem checked out, before it got worse. This is all okay. There is no perfect answer to when to see your physiotherapist. The general answer, however, is that it's always a good idea to see your physiotherapist, at least on a regular basis to keep an eye on things. It's the same principle behind seeing your doctor for a yearly physical, seeing your dentist for a half-yearly clean, and seeing your mechanic for an oil change every 10,000 kilometres. Just like we've written in “Tune Ups Stop Blow Ups”, a monitoring program of physiotherapy is designed to keep a distant eye on things, and make sure they don't flare up.
But the question remains, when do you see a physio? Hopefully I can answer that question in a way that shows you can really go the distance with physiotherapy, no matter where you are with training, rehabilitation, or injury management.
See a physio before you're in pain.
This goes double for people who are injury prone, like those who play contact sports and those who work in manual jobs, but it also goes for everyone. Everyone needs to use their bodies to interact with the world, to do things that are necessary and things that are relaxing. All of those things impose a wear-down on the body, and slowly accumulate stress over time. Proactive physiotherapy interventions, like massage, stretching, and the review of training programs, can be useful in identifying where stress and strain has the potential to become an injury, and to address things before they flare up.
A good example of this is the work I do with tradespeople. Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers and all other trades are physical jobs that require a lot of effort to get done. My clients are typically young men, under the age of 40, who are all very fit and aren't likely to have chronic health issues. Despite this, they still come in on a semi-regular basis to get their shoulders, backs and knees checked out. They leave with a few easy exercises, or a few quick tips as to how to keep themselves safe and well. With this, they put in a little time and effort and get a little guidance from me before anything flares up, and that means that they can keep working, keep playing their sport, and keep doing the things that are fulfilling to them in the knowledge that they're doing their part to keep themselves healthy and well.
Another example of proactive physiotherapy is the work I do with office and deskworkers. Unlike our tradespeople, office workers and clerks spend a lot of time at their desks. However, that also imposes strain on the shoulders, neck, eyes and arms. All of that strain needs to be managed before it turns into something sticky, like back pain or shoulder pain. Seeing a physio before discomfort becomes dysfunction, is the best way to make sure you can do the things you want to do, pain free and easily.
See a physio when you're in pain.
It goes without saying that when your back is sore, your shoulders ache and your neck feels like it's been caught in a vise, that's the time to see your physiotherapist. It's not the ideal time, because the best way to solve a problem is to stop it from ever becoming a problem in the first place. However, it's still better than putting it off forever and hoping it gets better on its own. It rarely does.
Seeing a physio when you're in pain isn't important just because they'll try and manage your pain, but so they can guide you through it in a constructive way. It takes someone with knowledge to look at the problem and say, this is an issue or this isn't an issue. To call things by its name (see “The Name of The Beast”) and help orient you with respect to what's going on. This isn't such an issue when the cause of the pain is known, like if you trip and hurt your knee. However, in complex cases like back, neck, and headache pain, a consistent and clear explanation helps ground and empower you (see “Answers are not Solutions”). That means you're going to have a better time overall and an easier experience in your rehab.
Another important reason to see a physio when you're in immediate pain, is to get a plan of action that states how you'll move forward. After orienting a patient with respect to their condition, a clinician needs to guide them past their discomfort with a plan that's developed collaboratively. It's not about the physiotherapist leading the way or the patient stating what they want like they're ordering pastries at a Greek shop. It’s a process of teamwork that takes the patient's capacity and knowledge, and combines it with the therapist's knowledge and top-down view of the rehabilitative process. That's what makes a good outcome.
See a physio after you're in pain.
Even once your condition resolves, it's important to keep in contact with your physio and keep up with your program. The gains you make in clinic are an investment towards your future health. You'll get education, rehabilitation, and a plan. It's also important to come back and see your clinician even when things are running smoothly and your problem has resolved. Just like we use our bodies to engage with life's demands, those demands change on a minute to minute, day to day and year to year basis. We all go through milestones in our lives, we feel stress, we work hard, we sometimes don't give ourselves the care that we should. The plan you get when you're 21 might not be the plan you need when you're 31, or even 28. I can speak from experience on that one.
There's nothing more important than the relationship between a clinician and their patients. That relationship and the trust within it form the foundation of every successful outcome that comes as a result of that team-work. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and nobody does it alone. By keeping up a relationship with your physiotherapist, you give yourself the opportunity to reach out to someone when you're in pain, in discomfort, or if you even just want something checked out to make sure it's not serious.
The best time to see your physio was yesterday. The second best time is today.
Feel free to reach out - our door's always open.