Healthcare is like any other service. It’s there to serve you.
The problem with this philosophy is that most practitioners forget this. And so do you. Or at least, you have been conditioned by the medical institution, full of experts and scientists, that your doctors, nurses and allied health practitioners know best. Well, they know a lot. But they don’t know everything, and especially do not know as much about you as you do.
So, as a physiotherapist with over 20 years’ experience, I’ve made it my career to put the serve back into our service. My job is to serve the needs of my patients and athlete clients to help them get the best out of their health.
Here are the 5 questions I encourage every patient to ask their physiotherapist at their next session.
- What caused my symptoms?
Anyone can tell you what the symptoms are – back pain, headaches, dizziness, pins and needles, weakness in your legs, poor biomechanics or a torn ligament. But what really matters is how this happened? What was the mechanism of injury, or what were the predisposing factors that underlie your condition? If your therapists can’t identify what caused the problem, there is little doubt they can fix you. At most, they will manage the pain, but the condition will recur…along with your frustration.
- How long will this take to get better?
The estimated prognosis is a critical part of any treatment regime. It’s good old-fashioned ‘expectations management’. If an injury typically demands a 6-week healing time, you will be wise to gradually return to work and sport, even if the pain is settling. If you do not follow these recommendations and base your activity levels on simply how you are feeling, good pain management may give you an overly optimistic indication of how much load your healing body can handle. The result will be some painful setbacks.
- What 3 things can I do every day to accelerate my healing?
A physiotherapists’ treatment is important. But it’s not always the most part. The exercises, postural advice, tips and secrets I teach my patients to practice at home every day are the real magic. I may only see my patients 2-3 time a week, but if I can teach you to accelerate your own healing with some repeatable daily habits, we will win together much more quickly.
- What 3 things should I avoid?
Doing all the right things is fantastic…if you don’t negate their benefits with the wrong things. Intuition is not always right. Heating an injury when you should ice, stretching when you should rest, and prolonged sitting when you should walk are all examples of common situations patients choose wrongly. Don’t guess. Ask your physio exactly what to avoid so that you don’t take 2 steps forward and slide all the way back.
- What can I expect from you?
This last question will stump your therapist at first. They are not used to being held to account for your health. But why shouldn’t they? You are there to get help…and other than hands-on treatment during the session, it’s appropriate to ask how else you can rely on them to support you through recovery. Are they available for phone advice? Can they speak with your employer, coach or parents? Will they write to you doctor to keep them in the loop? Will they be punctual, fair in their recommendations, honest about the severity and willing to educate you on how to make a long-term recovery? Press them for their best contribution to your health.
These are great questions to ask. I think of myself more like a health coach than just a physiotherapist. My job is to empower you to achieve optimal lifelong health, not try and do it all for you. For this reason, I love it when my patients ask me questions like these. And if they don’t…I’m going to initiate the conversation anyway.
Discussing these topics with your therapist, and learning the answers, will help them serve you better in the long run. Of course, not all the questions are foreign. You may think of some of them as intuitive, and may have even asked them already. But the key is not in the asking of the question as much as it’s in the discussion that follows. And when health practitioners give flippant or incomplete answers, dig a little with follow-up questions. Be curious about your own body, as your health is worth knowing.
About Jason T Smith
Jason T Smith is an award-winning physiotherapist who founded the Back In Motion Health Group – Australia and New Zealand’s largest allied health network. He is the author of international bestseller Get Yourself Back In Motion – a physiotherapists secrets to pain relief and optimal health. He is also the Chair of the SOS Health Foundation, improving the health of disadvantaged indigenous communities around Australia.