The first physiotherapy consultation: the assessment

When consulting for a physiotherapist for the first time it is difficult to know what to expect and understand what will happen and why. This post has been written to provide insights about the first appointment and explanations about the assessment part.

Why will your physio will perform an assessment?

Safety first.

“Primum non Nocere”.

  1. These quotes illustrate well the most important aspect of medical care. The first role of a health care provider is to make sure they will not cause more harm than good. This is why they will continuously screen for serious pathologies that may look like a “usual” musculoskeletal condition (back / neck pain, tendinopathy, sprain, etc …) but that could in reality be a more serious / urgent pathology that may require medical treatment to avoid life threatening outcomes or irreversible sequelae. Some examples could be cancer, fractures, infections of inflammatory pathologies … This is why the physiotherapist will ask for a wide range of questions about your medical history, your problem, and even some more personal / intimate questions to get all the information they need to make sure they can help you safely and that you do not require to be referred to another health care provider (doctor, specialist, emergency department etc.). This will happen throughout you medical journey, as some conditions evolve and might not be noticed in the first place. This is why this screening is a continuous process.
  2. They will ask questions about your life in general to get to know you better. This is also important as the best outcomes will be achieved through personalized care. Hence the fact that your physiotherapist will be able to help you more efficiently if they know more about you. Moreover, for some conditions people should be offered different management according to some lifestyle or psycho-social factors. For example, anxiety plays a huge part in persistent pain. In consequence, your physio may ask questions about your perception of the problem, your stress levels etc, to know more about what would be more more beneficial for you and what they may offer you.
  3. They will also carefully select the physical examination tests they will perform to get an understanding of your problem, how you cope with it, evaluate where you are at the moment regarding your symptoms, your abilities. This, to design the perfect rehabilitation suited for you at this time and be able to monitor your progresses over time. They will use a complex reasoning using all information they obtained to help you with the most appropriate plan according to your needs, preferences, current scientific recommendations, and their expertise and readjust it with time.
  4. This is a shared process. You are an equal part of it and play a great role in it. As a human being, your feelings, emotions, thoughts, behaviours and participation will influence the process largely. This is why they will try to establish a good communication and relation with you. Thanks to a collaborative work from you and your health-care provider(s), you will benefit from the best possible experience. Medical team will then be able to help you to cope with your problem and how it affects you and your life optimally.
  5. Your physiotherapist and your health care providers in general are working with you and for you. They will be curious about if you have questions, worries or other element that they can answer, reassure or help you with. However, medical science is not straightforward and is full of uncertainties. For that reason, sometimes, they will not be able to answer all questions in a definitive way. They may instead explain you their hypothesis, the current state of science regarding your question, what can be done, and how.

    This first session is really about getting to know you, agreeing on what can be offered to help you and guide / help you in the journey so that you feel as supported and cared for as possible.

I hope this information helps and provided you with insights about your first MSK physiotherapy appointment.

Take care


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