Should I Visit my GP or a Physio For My Injury?

By Jade Chan
Physiotherapist at Life Ready Mobile

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At a glance, doctors and physios can appear quite similar. Both are health professionals with extensive knowledge of the human anatomy. Both are first contact practitioners involved in diagnosing and treating conditions that may cause pain and discomfort. And most importantly, both care about people and want them to live their best lives. 

However, in some cases, seeing the right professional first can make a big difference in your recovery. 

When is it better to see a physiotherapist first?

  1. If you’re suffering from a musculoskeletal injury
    If you think your injury is of musculoskeletal origin (it’s relating to your muscles, bones or joints), then seeing a physiotherapist first is the best thing to do. Physiotherapists are highly trained in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal injuries. Getting the right diagnosis early means accurate treatment and a faster recovery for you. 
  2. If you need some injury rehabilitation
    1. Exercise Prescription: Exercise is often an essential component in treating not just musculoskeletal injuries, but other conditions as well such as learning to walk again after a stroke or controlling your bladder after giving birth. Physiotherapists are trained to identify and prescribe specific exercises to correct abnormalities. Exercises may involve muscle strengthening, joint movement, posture correction, balance and others, to name a few.
    2. Equipment Prescription: Physiotherapists may prescribe a splint, brace or cast to support healing or strapping to prevent re-injury. 
  3. If you need injury prevention
    Tailored advice can save you from pain and injury, which is where physiotherapists come into play. They can prescribe ergonomic and manual handling advice or teach you sport specific drills to prevent a sports injury
  4. For manual therapy
    Besides massage (manual therapy), physiotherapists are also trained in providing other hands-on treatments such as joint mobilisations and dry needling to help you recover.
  5. Scans
    Physiotherapists can refer you for certain types of X-Ray which can be bulk billed to get an accurate diagnosis. Physiotherapists can also refer you for special scans like CT Scans, MRI or an ultrasound. However different rebates apply when referred by a physiotherapist versus a GP. 

When is it better to see a GP first? 

  1. In a medical emergency
    If there is severe pain or serious injury suspected (like a broken bone requiring medical treatment), then an emergency doctor is best for you. 
  2. A work injury or Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)
    If your injury is caused by work or if you were involved in an accident, it is better for you to obtain a doctor’s referral first so your physiotherapist can bill your relevant work/insurance cover to avoid significant out-of-pocket expenses.
  3. For a chronic health condition or chronic pain
    If you have a health condition or pain lasting more than three months, your doctor may be able to refer you on to the Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) Program, where you can get a Medicare rebates for up to five consultations.
  4. Medications
    A doctor can prescribe you medications for your injury such as anti-inflammatories or painkillers. Some chronic pain is caused by joint inflammation or arthritis, in which case, your doctor may perform corticosteroid injections to help ease the pain.
  5. Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA)
    If you have a DVA health card, DVA may pay for your physiotherapy services however your physiotherapist needs a current doctor’s referral first to avoid any out of pocket expenses. 

In some cases, you may need both your doctor and your physiotherapist to get the best outcome. If you are unsure, don’t worry, feel free to speak to one of our friendly physiotherapists at Life Ready and we are happy to help or at least refer you in the right direction of your injury.