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How Do I Choose A Physiotherapist?

Choosing a physiotherapist is not easy. You want someone you can trust, someone who will listen to you and understand your problem and your goals.

As you will be spending reasonably large sums of money, you also want someone who will give you value for your money, who will be honest with you about the amount of treatment needed and how long it should go on for.

Fortunately most therapists of whatever persuasion are honest and trustworthy people. But there is still a lot you can do to make sure your therapist fits your requirements.

Physiotherapist Qualifications

Physiotherapy is a 3 year degree course at one of the universities offering this course throughout the UK and Ireland. There are accelerated, 2 year, courses for those who already have a relevant qualification, eg in Sports Therapy. There is a requirement for a minimum number of clinical hours (ie time spent with patients) to be completed before qualification.

A qualified physiotherapist is a safe and effective practitioner in many areas but does not have the specialised knowledge to cope with complex cases. That knowledge is gained in the first few years of practice, often in a rotational scheme which allows experience in many different clinical areas.

How Do I Know If A Physio Is What They Claim?

All physiotherapists have to be registered with the Health Professions Council (HPC) before they can call themselves a physiotherapist or practise as one. This is a legal obligation and you can check whether someone is on the register by putting their name into the database on the HPC site.

The HPC has the duty to regulate this and many other professions (but not doctors or dentists who have their own regulatory bodies). The HPC investigates complaints, takes action against individuals who have been shown to have broken the rules and ensures the continuing competence of practitioners.

The vast majority of physiotherapists belong to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, our professional and representative body. However, this is NOT a legal requirement and your physio may be entirely correct and above board if they do not belong.

What Kind Of Physio Is Best For Me?

The answer here is similar as for doctors. If you have a kidney problem you don’t book in to see an orthopaedic specialist. So it’s worth narrowing your search down to the therapists with the specific skills which suit your problem. However, for many more straightforward problems, most physiotherapists will be able to carry out an appropriate assessment and treatment plan.

  • If you are a high level sports person or have a specialised need (such as rehabilitation after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction), it would be worth finding a practice who are routinely managing such conditions.
  • For pregnancy or incontinence problems there are physios who specialise in women’s health.
  • If you have a complex musculoskeletal problem, perhaps not better after previous attempts at treatment, you could look for a therapist with MACP (Manipulation Association of Chartered Physiotherapists) or M.Sc. Manual Therapy after their name. Both these qualifications involve Masters Degree level study and indicate highly skilled practitioners in these fields.
  • If you have a long-term pain problem which has been extensively investigated and treated without much success, a physio specialising in pain management might be the best choice. They usually work as part of a team and a review by the Pain Management Clinic in your local hospital would be a good first step.

A Good Physio Clinic

There are a whole series of checks you can make as you go through the process of making and attending an appointment. You should feel comfortable the whole way through and feel you know what is going on. This starts with the reception welcome and the efficiency and accuracy of the booking process.

Your therapist should greet you, introduce themselves and give you an overview of how the appointment is going to unfold. There will be the subjective examination where you will tell your story and respond to the questions of the therapist.

This is followed by the objective examination where your therapist will look at the part of your body appropriate to your problem. For most conditions you will need to remove at least some of your clothes. If you have a neck problem you will need to remove your upper body clothing and for a low back pain problem you will need to remove lower body clothing also. The clinic should provide you with shorts to wear (or you could bring your own).

You should feel very comfortable during this process. If you would prefer a female or male therapist you need to make it clear when you book in.

After the examination is completed your physio should give you a working diagnosis and the kind of treatment they have in mind, with some idea of how long that should go on for. Once you consent the treatment can go ahead and you should clearly understand what is being aimed for and why various techniques are being performed.

Most therapists are very communicative and friendly so it is likely that the whole process will be as described.


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