When should I see a physio?

You wake up in the morning with a stiff and sore neck from sleeping awkwardly, or your child is playing soccer and twists their ankle. What do you do? Do you book in with the physio immediately? Or do you wait a couple of days and see if there are any improvements?

This is a very common question that we get at the clinic – “When should I see the physio??” I sat down with one of our physiotherapists, Rachael, to discuss this and she has given the following advice.


Soft tissue injuries such as damage to muscle, tendon or ligament follow a set healing process. The first healing stage is called the “acute inflammatory” phase and usually lasts for 48 to 72 hours. During this phase of injury you are likely to experience acute pain, swelling, redness and heat. During this phase of healing the best thing you can do is rest. You really want to reduce swelling during this phase, as this can reduce the duration of recovery. When this phase is finished, physiotherapists can then start to strengthen, stretch, massage and help you to return to normal. Because of this, leaving 2-3 days after initial injury before you see the physiocan work in your best interest. If you are ever concerned however about the severity of injury, of course come to the physio or medical professional for their opinion, and if appropriate they will send you for scans or further treatment.

For a lower leg injury:

You can often determine the urgency of seeking help for a leg injury by seeing whether you can put weight on the injured leg and attempting to take 4 steps. If you can’t do this, Rachael advises seeing a health professional’s advice as soon as possible. If you can take the 4 steps and it is sore but not unbearable, she suggests applying RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation), followed by the the no HARM principles (no heat, alcohol, running/exercise or massage) and then seeking assistance in a couple of days if nothing changes. If the pain gets worse or the sensation in the leg changes, seek assistance sooner to make sure everything is ok.

For back pain: 

If you are experiencing severe pain and are finding that you can’t get in and out of a car easily, Rachael advises waiting until you can do so before seeing a health professional. If you are still in the inflammatory stage of injury, for example it has been less than two days and you are still unable to move in and out of a chair, physical manipulations from a physiotherapist or massage won’t be of use so talk to your GP or pharmacist about the appropriateness of anti-inflammatories, minimise your movement into positions that cause you pain and wait for the pain to subside slightly before coming in to the physiotherapist.

If however you are experiencing any tingling, numbness or disturbances with bowel or bladder you should seek help immediately.

For neck pain:
This is something you can see a physio for immediately and they should be able to provide some assistance and relief.

Rachael’s last piece of advice – apply ice and not heat in the first 48 hours of injury!

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