Both doctors and physiotherapists can effectively diagnose and treat musculoskeletal injuries. Here are some key factors to consider when deciding which to see first:
When to see a doctor first:
- If there is obvious deformity, extreme swelling, inability to bear weight, or loss of sensation/movement. These can indicate a serious injury like a fracture that requires prompt medical attention.
- If you have symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or neurological deficits. These can indicate an urgent medical issue not directly related to the injury.
- If you need imaging like x-rays or MRI, or may need prescription medication. Doctors can order imaging and prescribe medications that physiotherapists cannot.
- If there is no clear traumatic cause and your symptoms are unexplained. For example, sudden joint pain or swelling could indicate an underlying illness.
- If you have complicating medical conditions like diabetes, immunosuppression, or taking blood thinners. These can affect injury treatment.
When to see a physiotherapist first:
- For suspected sprains, strains, tendonitis – common injuries caused by sports, falls, overuse. Physiotherapists are experts in diagnosing and treating these.
- For post-op rehab after a doctor has addressed any surgical issues. Physiotherapists can provide specialized rehabilitation.
- For pain or reduced mobility from chronic conditions like arthritis. Physiotherapists can provide exercises and manual therapy.
- If you are looking for exercises or ways to prevent injury and improve movement. Physiotherapists can provide customized programs.
Key physiotherapist skills:
- Advanced knowledge of musculoskeletal system anatomy and function
- Physical examination skills to assess injury, joint motion, strength, gait
- Diagnostic skills to identify impaired movement patterns
- Manual therapy techniques like massage, mobilization, manipulation
- Designing therapeutic exercise programs
- Patient education on recovering from injury and preventing reinjury
The most important thing is to seek prompt professional care, whether first seeing your doctor or physiotherapist. They work together, referring patients to each other when needed for optimal recovery. Open communication between healthcare providers ensures you get the best treatment plan.