Sore knee, who should I see?

A VERY common question we get asked is “Should I see the GP or come straight to the physio?”

Traditionally, the doctor has been the first port of call following an injury or illness. General Practitioners or GPs are specialists in their own right. Their expertise is not confined to a specific organ or type of treatment like a gynecologist or a surgeon. GPs have a huge breadth of knowledge, they know a little about lots of different injuries and conditions. For this reason, they are perfectly positioned to manage different aspects of a person’s health and provide guidance where onward referrals may be appropriate. Often the doctor’s main focus is immediate pain relief and they may prescribe certain medications to help with this - while this often provides temporary pain relief, medication alone may not be enough to heal the injury in question or prevent the pain from recurring.

Physiotherapists have specialised skills in the area of assessment and management of musculoskeletal conditions - specifically when pain is related to bones, joints or muscles, in both sports people and the general public. They are trained to provide ‘hands on’ manual therapy that can provide pain management and improve mobility. Physiotherapists are experts in movement. Typically this means they will provide some exercises or strategies that can progress recovery, return to normal activity and help prevent further injury. Active rehabilitation is a key step that in combination with manual therapy helps to provide long-term results.

Do I need a referral to see a physio?

Physiotherapists are first contact practitioners, which means we have the necessary skills to assess, diagnose, treat and provide advice to patients without a referral from the doctor. Physiotherapists are well trained to flag sinister conditions that require medical attention or ongoing referral to specialists when an issue falls outside our scope of practice.

What if I require scans?

X-rays and other scans are usually considered to rule out differential diagnosis (e.g. fractures or malignancy). Both doctors and physios are able to refer for scans, however the medicare rebates can vary between GPs and physiotherapists depending on the type of scan required. Your physio will discuss options when scans are indicated. It’s important to note we don’t routinely recommend investigations/scans prior to assessment. In many cases the results of a scan will NOT change our management - we can save you the time (and money) spent faffing about organising scans by starting with a thorough visual and hands on assessment which may be sufficient to diagnose and treat your complaint.

So to answer the original question – the truth is that either is acceptable however in most cases booking in first up with the Physio will save you time and most likely get you on the road to recovery fast. Where appropriate, physios and doctors will work together and communicate with one another to achieve the best possible health outcomes. As Physio’s we recognise the need to refer to doctors and likewise most doctors will recommend when physiotherapy is indicated. A handy rule of thumb, if your knee hurts and you feel otherwise well, book in with a Physio. You do NOT need a referral to see a Physio and you do NOT need to organise scans prior. We can help guide you through the rest!

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