As physiotherapists we interact daily with people wanting help for their pain or injury. As physiotherapists it’s also important for us to remember that many of these people have difficulty understanding why they are at this point in their lives, and what they need to do to get better. This is why we always encourage you to ask us lots of questions.
Around 30% of Australians (or 6.9 million people) report having arthritis, or other muscle and bone issues. Around half of these people have back pain or arthritis, and a large number have osteoporosis (otherwise known as weakening of the bones).
As these conditions progress they can lead to pain, illness, depression and reduced quality of life. Physiotherapy can help many of these people, but we often find our patients have difficulty understanding the information we provide them with.
A study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that almost 60% of the Australian population found it difficult to gain, understand and put health information into practice. They also found people struggled to seek out and use services needed for their health care.
A person’s ability to understand their health problems, and the best management options, are influenced by a number of factors. These include language, education, previous experience, income, cultural background and current health.
At Physiotas we are trained to be better at explaining your diagnosis, treatment options, probable results and things you can do to help yourself. However we know not everyone will completely understand what we say all of the time, so that’s why we encourage you to ask us questions!
We also know it can be scary to ask questions. You may feel like your question is silly, or you should just go along with what is said. We want you to know that we will always respect your questions and give you honest answers. Sometimes we won’t know the answer. But we will work hard to find out for you. Or we will tell you where to go, or who to go to, in order to get the answer.
One study found that men, especially, don’t like to ask questions. On average men ask 1.4 questions from the time they enter reception to when they leave their appointment.
As physiotherapists we only have a short amount of time to talk to you during your treatment. We do our best to explain everything, but there can be a lot of information to pass onto you.
Your physiotherapist will often ask, ‘do you understand’ or ‘do you have any questions for me’? Use this time to ask about things you might not have understood clearly, even if the physiotherapist has explained them. Common questions asked are:
- How can I contact you (the physio) in between sessions if I have worries or questions?
- How can I include the exercises you’ve given me into everyday life?
- What should I do if things get worse?
- How are these exercises or treatments going to help?
- How did I get to this point? How can I stop it from worsening / happening again?
- When and how often do I need to come back?
- How much will it cost?
- Will you (the physio) communicate with my other health care providers?
It’s also important for us, as physiotherapists, to remember that people learn in different ways. Sometimes people want things drawn, written down or videos taken of their exercises. If you are someone who finds it easier to understand things when the information is provided in one of these ways, don’t be afraid to ask your physiotherapist to draw or print a picture, demonstrate the movement, or video you performing the activity.
Occasionally your physiotherapist will send you for a scan, back to your doctor, or to a surgeon or other health professional. It is important you understand why, where you need to go, and whether you will be returning to see your physiotherapist again. In these situations you might want to ask:
- Why do you think this will be a better way of helping me?
- What can I expect this other person to do?
- What is the address and how do I get there?
- Will there be other costs?
- How do they communicate with you (the physio) to coordinate my care?
Physiotherapists know that all the information, big words, multiple appointment times and places can be confusing and overwhelming. We are here to answer your questions and make the management of your problem as easy as possible. Just remember that it’s important, and ok, to ask as many questions as you need. This will help you feel like you have a greater understanding, and more control over the management of your pain or injury.
Why and “how” are words so important that they cannot be too often used
About the Author:
Born in Tasmania Lauren studied at Sydney University, completing her Bachelor of Physiotherapy with first class Honours in 2013. Following this Lauren worked at a private rehabilitation hospital in Westmead, NSW, and spent a year working at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney.
Lauren has an interest in all musculoskeletal areas of physiotherapy including sports injuries, paediatrics and post-surgical rehabilitation. Lauren uses thorough assessment, education and individualized exercise programs to help patients achieve their physical and lifestyle goals.
Maintaining an active and productive life is Lauren’s priority for herself and her patients. Outside work Lauren spends her time horse riding, water skiing and swimming.