What to Expect…

On Your First Visit to a Private Practice Physiotherapist

Your neck has been hurting for weeks. It’s getting worse, and your friend recommends that you seek physiotherapy – after all, it helped with her hip pain! You have never seen one before and are wondering what will happen on your first visit.

Here is what you can expect on your first visit to a physiotherapist in a private practice clinic:


Do it now

The first thing to do is to book an initial assessment with a physiotherapist before the pain gets worse. Unless you have a recommendation from a friend or family member of a physiotherapist, choose a clinic near your work or home and consider seeing if there is a clinical specialist near you. Also, even though you can directly access a physiotherapist, some insurance companies require a doctor referral. Please check with your insurance company.


Be specific

When you call, the receptionist will ask you what your area of concern is, and whether your injury occurred due to a workplace injury or motor vehicle accident. Some clinics do not accept these types of patients, so it is important to find out.

It would be helpful to ask: “Is there a physiotherapist who is experienced at treating the neck?” Asking this question helps the receptionist to book you with a physiotherapist who can help you best. Also, ask for a private room rather than a curtained room if you prefer.


What to wear

It is important to wear comfortable, loose clothing. You can bring clothes to change into for the appointment if needed.

If the area of concern is your neck, shoulder, or back, you may be asked to remove your shirt so the physiotherapist can look at your posture, joints, and muscles. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, the clinic will have towels or hospital gowns that can help.


Arrive early, because…

You will likely be asked to arrive 10-15 minutes before your first visit to fill out forms. These forms may ask for your contact information, health concerns, and previous injuries. If you have extended health benefits and the clinic bills to insurance companies, you may also be asked for this information. You also may be asked to complete a questionnaire, collected on paper or online, to help the physiotherapist understand your concerns.


Meeting your physiotherapist

Your first visit will usually take about an hour and the physiotherapist will let you know what it will involve. You can let them know whether or not you have been to a physiotherapist in the past.

With your consent, the physiotherapist will ask questions about the pain. It’s best to be honest about the pain or dysfunction that you’re experiencing. The physiotherapist will also look at how you move (e.g. “Lift your arms overhead”), do strength tests, and look at how you walk, for example. Your physiotherapist will also look at areas around the pain, so if your neck hurts, your physiotherapist may look at your shoulders and back. Any pain you share will give your physiotherapist good information. Don’t try to silently endure pain; let your physiotherapist know if something hurts during the assessment.


How your physiotherapist helps you achieve your goals

At the end of the assessment, your physiotherapist may give you a physical diagnosis. You can ask questions like “How long do you think it will take for me to get better?” Your physiotherapist will also let you know that it is normal if you are sore after the assessment for a day or so, and you may also feel tired immediately afterwards. They will also propose a treatment plan based on your goals.


Your recovery

The assessment may end with some treatment to start your recovery. You can consent or decline to any treatment that is proposed.  To achieve best results, you will need to do your part in recovery. Just like working out and taking care of yourself, schedule in time to regularly perform any home exercises recommended by your physiotherapist.


To sum up your first physiotherapy visit:

  • Arrive early to fill out forms
  • Expect to be there for about an hour
  • Wear comfortable, loose clothing
  • Be prepared to do movement tests that may hurt
  • Treatment may be initiated at the end
  • It will be normal to be sore for a day after your assessment
  • Work with your physiotherapist as they are now on your team


Ultimately, physiotherapists empower you to help you achieve your goals. This gives you a summary of what to expect with a first visit to a physiotherapist in a private practice clinic. Keep in mind that physiotherapists work in many different settings such as hospitals, community centres and home care, and the first visit in these settings might be somewhat different.  #physiocanhelp



Kerry Kittson Physiotherapist
PFC and CPA Awards Manager, Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Physiotherapy Foundation of Canada

Follow Kerry on Twitter @CPA_Kerry.

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The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.

Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.

More than 20,000 registered physiotherapists work in Canada, in private clinics, general and rehabilitation hospitals, community health centres, residential care and assisted-living facilities, home visit agencies, workplaces, and schools.