How long does physiotherapy take to work?

Physiotherapy is a type of treatment that uses physical techniques to help improve your movement and relieve pain.

It can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including back pain, neck pain, joint pain, and repetitive strain injuries.

Most people who have physiotherapy will see an improvement in their symptoms within a few weeks.

However, the length of treatment you need will depend on a number of factors which we’ll explore in this article.

How long does physiotherapy take to work?

On average, most patients will require between 4-8 sessions to tell whether a particular physiotherapy treatment is working.

After these sessions, either your symptoms will abate or you will have made at least some progress.

Note – for extremely chronic conditions, this improvement might only be very small, and in some instances, may only be obvious to the treating physio after performing their re-assessment.

If you’ve made no improvement after this time, it might be that your treating clinician needs to test an alternative form of treatment.

Factors affecting recovery

The amount of time it takes to recover from an injury or condition will vary depending on a number of factors.

These include:

  • The type of injury or condition you have
  • The severity of your injury or condition
  • How long you have had the injury or condition for
  • Your age
  • Your general health
  • Your compliance with the treatment programme
  • How well you respond to treatment
  • The type of physiotherapy you’re receiving
  • How many sessions of physiotherapy you’re having

With all these factors in mind, it’s difficult to give a definitive answer as to how long physiotherapy will take to work.

For example, someone with a chronic condition like arthritis may need regular sessions over a long period to see any significant improvement.

However, most people who have physiotherapy for a more acute condition, such as a muscle strain, will start to see an improvement within a few weeks.

That said, most people who have physiotherapy will see an improvement in their symptoms within a few weeks.

How often should you have physiotherapy to get better?

The frequency of your physiotherapy sessions will depend on the severity and chronicity of your injury or condition.

Acute conditions (injuries that have happened recently) will often require more frequent sessions than chronic conditions (injuries that have been present for a long time).

You may also need to have more than one session per week to begin with, and then reduce the frequency as your condition improves.

For quicker results, more intensive physiotherapy is often recommended – this could be 2-3 times per week.

As your condition improves, this frequency can generally be reduced to once a week, once a fortnight or once a month.

How do I know if physiotherapy is working?

You will know if physiotherapy is working because there will be an improvement in your symptoms.

Whether this means that a tight joint becomes looser, a weak muscle becomes stronger or an injured ligament becomes less painful, your body will generally exhibit positive signs.

If you’re unsure whether you’re making progress, the tests administered by the treating physiotherapist will provide objective evidence of improvement and further validation to continue with the treatment protocol.

Another indication of progress is whether you’re able to return to any activities of daily living that were previously impacted by your injury.

Whether this means you’re able to sit for longer without pain, slowly return to playing sport or get back to your gardening, these are positive signs that physiotherapy treatment is having the desired effect.

Does physiotherapy hurt before it gets better?

In some instances, physiotherapy may cause a temporary increase in pain.

This is particularly common when treating conditions like arthritis, as the aim of physiotherapy is to increase movement in the joints.

The increase in pain is usually due to the release of inflammatory chemicals and is a normal response to treatment.

Another form of post-treatment soreness that can occur is after massage or trigger point release, which is a completely normal reaction to therapy.

However, it should only last for a short period and should not be severe.

If you experience an increase in pain that is severe, you should contact your treating physiotherapist, who may have to modify your treatment accordingly.

Why is physiotherapy not working?

There are a number of reasons why physiotherapy might not be working.

The most common reason is that the injury or condition is more severe than initially thought, and therefore requires a different or more intensive form of treatment.

It’s also possible that the physiotherapy treatment needs to be modified, or that the exercises prescribed are not to be amended.

Another possibility is that the person has not been attending physiotherapy regularly, or has not been complying with the recommended exercises.

If you’re not sure why your physiotherapy isn’t working, it’s important to speak to your treating physiotherapist, who will be able to provide more insight.

Summary

Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment for a wide range of injuries and conditions.

In most cases, people will see an improvement in their symptoms after a few sessions.

However, the number of sessions required will depend on the severity and chronicity of the injury or condition.

More intensive physiotherapy may be required for acute injuries, while chronic conditions may require less frequent sessions.

If you’re unsure whether physiotherapy is working, speak to your treating physiotherapist.

They will be able to assess your progress and offer more insight into why your treatment may not be working.

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