The ultimate guide to physiotherapy in Canada

Physiotherapy treatment is a good choice for many people dealing with aches.

Whether it’s back pain, a sprained ankle, or a chronic condition, a physiotherapist can help you minimize discomfort and encourage healing.

Before booking an appointment with a practitioner, you probably have a few questions. You might want to know what you can expect and how you can be sure it’s the right treatment for you. Plus, how can you find a physiotherapist nearby?

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about physiotherapy in Canada.

What is a Physiotherapist?

A physiotherapist, also called a physical therapist or PT, is a practitioner who treats an injury or physical condition through a variety of techniques like education, exercise, heat, and massage.

Physiotherapy treatment aims to restore, maintain, and improve a person’s mobility and function—leading to greater overall well-being. It’s a form of physical rehabilitation that can also help prevent injuries. Compared to other treatments, physio guides you to heal yourself. Patients have usually prescribed a set of stretches to practice at home. Other techniques include manual manipulation, physiotherapist massage, and suggesting assistive devices, like a walking cane.

What Problems Do Physiotherapists Treat?

Physiotherapy treatment can benefit a range of injuries and conditions. Below are some of the most common reasons people seek physiotherapy treatment.

Physiotherapist for Back Pain

Many patients see a physiotherapist for back pain—whether low, mid-back, or a chronic condition. A 2018 review of research found that physical therapy exercise should be the first approach to treat chronic low back pain. Research also shows that it can help prevent problems too. Exercise alone decreased the risk of low back pain by 33%. A 2017 study showed that most patients find a combination of physical therapy techniques helpful for sciatica pain.

Physiotherapist for Injuries

You should consider seeing a physiotherapist for neck pain. For most patients, a combination of manual therapy, exercise, and education is typically effective.

Physiotherapist for Knee Pain

Seeing a physiotherapist for knee pain can help you treat injuries or conditions, such as osteoarthritis (OA). One study found that all patients with moderate knee OA of varying pain levels can benefit from physiotherapy.

Physiotherapist for Vertigo

Some people see a specialized physiotherapist for vertigo—the sensation that your surroundings are spinning. Research shows that vestibular rehabilitation may improve symptoms related to inner ear/balance disorders.

In addition to those common reasons for seeking treatment, physiotherapy may also be beneficial for:

What are the different types of physiotherapy?

A standard physiotherapist can treat a wide range of issues. However, some practitioners develop expertise in a specific area.

Clinics and physiotherapists may specialize in:

Is Physiotherapy Painful?

Many conditions require ongoing sessions to improve a condition or maintain function. How frequent your appointments depends on your diagnosis.

For some concerns, video appointments may be available. During these, a physiotherapist can provide education, including teaching you stretches to alleviate pain.

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

Although you may feel better after one appointment, in most cases, a set of appointments are required.

How long it takes to see improvement from physiotherapy depends on your condition. For example, a physical therapy program for an injury might be 6 to 8 weeks since it takes that long for soft tissues to heal.

Other conditions can take a longer or shorter amount of time. When your PT diagnoses you, they’ll be able to give you an estimate, but your pain and mobility levels will be the ultimate indicator.

Typically, you can expect sessions to last from 30 to 45 minutes, up to one hour. Appointments may be weekly or several times a week.

Physio vs Chiro: Who Should I See?

Many people wonder about the difference between physio vs chiro treatments. How do you know whether to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor?

Although they’re similar in some ways, their main treatment strategies are different. A physical therapist mainly guides you in stretches and ways you can improve your pain. A chiropractor also educates you but focuses on manual adjustments. Patients commonly see chiropractors for back and neck issues. Physiotherapists are frequently visited for soft tissue and musculoskeletal conditions.

For many concerns, like neck pain, you can see either practitioner. When this is the case, decide which treatment approach you’d prefer or book a consultation with both to decide. Some conditions may also be best treated by both.

Physiotherapy vs. Osteopathy: Who Should I See?

Before booking an appointment, many people wonder if physiotherapy is painful. Physiotherapy shouldn’t be painful but as you stretch and exercise affected areas, you might experience discomfort. For example, as you regain mobility, some stretches can be challenging. In some cases, such as a physiotherapist massage or guided exercise, you might be sore the day later as your body recovers.

Is a Physiotherapist a Doctor? Requirements & Qualifications

Many people wonder, “is a physiotherapist a doctor?” Although not doctors, it is a regulated profession that requires an extensive amount of training to diagnose and treat ailments. 

A physiotherapist in Canada must earn a master’s degree from a physiotherapy (or physical therapy) program. Along with educational physiotherapist requirements, they must also register with the governing body in their province of practice.

Do I Need a Referral From a Doctor to See a Physiotherapist?

No, you do not need a referral from a doctor to see a physiotherapist. In some cases, your doctor may suggest physio as part of a treatment plan. However, you can make an appointment without any recommendation.

If you’re applying to visit a government-funded clinic free of charge, a doctor’s referral is required to help determine your eligibility.

Is Physiotherapy Covered by My Provincial Health Plan?

Physiotherapists are not generally covered by provincial health plans.

Under some plans in BC, you might be eligible to have fees partially covered.

Throughout Canada, physiotherapy treatment is covered if it’s required during a hospital stay.

Although most physiotherapists aren’t covered by provincial health plans, in some cases, eligible people can have treatment covered by specific government-funded clinics.

How Much Does Physiotherapy Cost?

Physiotherapy fees range widely by province, office, and services provided. For example, the cost of a visit in BC typically falls between $63 and $190, according to the Physiotherapy Association of British Columbia. To figure out how much physio costs locally, check with offices in your area.

What Can I Expect at Physiotherapy?

At your first physiotherapy appointment, here is what you can expect:

To give you an idea of the techniques used in physical therapy, according to a 2017 study, an appointment for sciatica might include:

People often wonder whether they need physiotherapy and osteopathy.

Like chiropractors, osteopaths mainly use manual adjustments, which PTs may use, but don’t typically focus on. Physical therapy is also thought to be more in line with Western medicine. This is compared to osteopathy, which aims to treat the body as a whole by focusing on tissues.

Like physiotherapists, osteopaths can treat both skeletal problems and pain and mobility issues in other areas of the body. To decide which practitioner to see, compare their approaches to your preferences. If you’re unsure, book a consultation with both.

How to Find a Physiotherapist Clinic Near Me

To find a physiotherapist nearby, visit Medimap and enter your location. On your selected listing, choose a time or click “Book Appointment.”

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