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UK Coaching Team
Self-care and development

Getting the Best Value From Working With a Physiotherapist

Physiotherapist at Regeneration Physiotherapy Group Sam Harbottle shares his experiences of speaking to injured participants and communicating with coaches

Injury is an emotive time, and everyone experiences a mix of emotions, from frustration and anger to fear and sadness. This makes communication and clarity more challenging and more important at the same time.

In this resource, Sam shares key questions that will help you to ensure the return to training and competition is well-communicated between medical practitioners, participant (and parent) and coach.

What questions should you ask your physiotherapist, doctor or medical staff? 

As a starting point, Sam suggests seven steps to follow.

Importantly, talking to your physio should be valuable and meaningful, with every question probing a response that provides you with important information on the injury and your next steps and progress. You should expect to know what your problem is or have a clear plan on how to diagnose the problem (often the case for prolonged overuse injuries).

You are now able with this information to discuss timescales and the milestones you should expect to see during the recovery process.

Ask for clear direction in the management of the injury. When you leave the meeting, you should know what your dos and don’ts are regarding the injury before your participant returns to training or your next consultation.  

Check how frequently they need to be seen by the medical staff or when is the next appropriate stage to be reviewed by a member of the medical staff to optimise recovery milestones.

Remember: information is key and the more information you have the better chance you have of recovering faster and better. Just knowing what and when helps you come to terms and manage your injury.”

Who should I see see and when?

There are so many medical practitioners with similar sounding names, specialisms and titles, such as:

  • Physiotherapist.
  • Sports Physiotherapist.
  • Sports therapist.
  • Massage therapist.
  • Chiropractor.
  • Osteopath.
  • Podiatrists.
  • Sports Rehabilitator.

There are several people to choose from and there is often confusion as to who is the most appropriate to see and why.

Over-promoting of skills (scope of practice in the medical world) and misunderstanding the role of a profession are amongst the most common reasons for this.

How do I find a physiotherapist?

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC [formerly the Health Professions Council, HPC]) is a register of all medical professionals and sets the standards they must follow. The register is the best place to seek out a medical practitioner to find someone who is qualified, you trust and feel comfortable with.

Using the register gives you confidence in the person you are contact with. They will follow the guidelines and you will be assured of a comprehensive assessment and plan from the appointment.

Qualified sports rehabilitators are not HCPC registered, however undergo the same training as most musculoskeletal (often referred to as MSK) physiotherapists, meaning they are a great second option if you are unable to find a HCPC physiotherapist. Make sure you check their qualifications and that they have kept their training and practice current.

Other medical professions have their role in aiding the recovery (and maintenance), however new injuries should be seen by a qualified medical professional to get a safe and accurate assessment, diagnosis and initial recovery plan (return to training).

Massage therapists and sports therapists are great for maintenance of an optimised body, whilst sports therapists can help with progressing rehabilitation through an injury. 

Make sure your therapist is registered and don’t be afraid to ask this question. The registers are online and free to access if you want to check out medical practitioners in your locality.

Qualified professionals will always be happy to share their qualifications, education, experience and training with you.

When should my participant return to sport?

A question that is often asked is, “I’ve been discharged from the NHS… Am I okay to return to sport?”

The short answer to this is that it’s complicated!

This largely this depends on the injury, but as a rule, the answer is usually no.

A graded and phased approach to returning to play is needed, as at the very least your participant has been missing training for a number of weeks and needs to develop their capacity again.

The NHS will discharge individuals at what is termed ‘independent function level’ rather than their ‘specific function level’. What this means is they’re okay to carry on with everyday tasks, but physical activities and sports require you to load your body extensively, often for a sustained period whilst fatigued.

Following an NHS discharge, an assessment and graduated plan on their return to training and return to competition can be vital in optimising their recovery process and preventing a reoccurrence of the injury. This is key to long-term participation and enjoyment.

Consider a participant who has experienced a leg fracture. The cast has been removed, the bones have healed, and they have been discharged from the fracture service.

However, a discharge doesn’t consider that:

  • the muscles around the fracture will have ‘wasted away’ a little from inactivity
  • the balance in the leg won’t be what it was (proprioception)
  • they may have lost a range of motion
  • their general level of fitness may have also been affected.

All these things increase the chances of:

  • further injury
  • delayed return to competition
  • other complications if the rehabilitation is not managed properly with a graduated and planned return.

More from the Regeneration Physiotherapy Group

This guide is part of a suite of resources developed in partnership with the Regeneration Physiotherapy Group

Get the other resources

Related Resources

  • Understanding First Aid and Injury Management

  • How Medical Professionals Can Help Develop Future Champions

  • Injuries and Stress: How to Help When Players Can’t Play


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