Physical therapy and your healthcare team

There are different types of healthcare professionals who can help you with physical therapies for chronic pain. Two of the most common types are called physical therapists (also called physiotherapists) and occupational therapists.

Animated image of a young patient lying on a table. There is a physiotherapist helping to stretch out their leg.

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Healthcare professionals called physical therapists (also called physiotherapists) are trained to develop individual treatment plans to address the needs of each person. A physiotherapist is a key member of the healthcare team for people who experience chronic pain.

What is the role of physiotherapists?

Physiotherapists have a detailed understanding of how the body works, together with knowledge of diseases, types of injuries, pain conditions and the healing process. They can also tell the difference between normal and abnormal body posture, movement and functioning. The primary goals of physiotherapy are to restore body movement, improve functioning, prevent further injury and promote healing. Physiotherapists can prescribe active and/or passive therapies that can be useful in reducing pain. Often you can learn these treatments and then practise them at home.

Your ability to move may be influenced by physical, psychological, social, and environmental factors. The role of a physiotherapist is to assess all of these factors, and plan a treatment program together with you and other members of your health care team. The aim of this treatment program will be to achieve the best possible movement potential and to help you reach your activity goals.

How should I choose a physiotherapist?

There are a few factors to think about when choosing the right physiotherapist for you.

  • Make sure that they are registered with their Provincial College of Physiotherapists.

  • If you are interested in a specific treatment method, like acupuncture, make sure they are qualified to perform it. It is important to note that certification will vary across provinces, so you should ask your physiotherapist about their qualifications and training. Ask them about their experience with chronic pain, and comfort treating people with persistent pain.

  • It is important to choose a physiotherapist who you are compatible with. For example, choose someone who listens to your needs, preferences, and concerns. It is also important to find someone who is comfortable with and has experience treating people with persistent pain.

  • Your physiotherapist should be focused on your goals and on helping you create a plan to achieve them. Your physiotherapist should provide you with a detailed individualized plan including the number of visits you will need, the cost of their services, and what will be covered under a health insurance plan. Physiotherapy treatment might be covered in full or in part by your provincial health plan (for example, OHIP in Ontario) or by another insurance provider. Physiotherapist services provided to patients who require hospital admission are covered by provincial health plans.

We have compiled a list of questions that may help to guide your conversation with a new physiotherapist who might be treating your chronic pain. These questions can also be used to guide conversations with other potential healthcare providers. You can also download a copy of this list below.

Questions to discuss with a potential therapist

  1. Have you previously treated anyone with a similar condition to mine?

  2. How confident are you treating someone with my condition?

  3. What is causing my pain?

  4. Is it likely to get better or worse?

  5. What treatments do you recommend and why?

  6. How long will __________treatment take to work?

  7. How often should I attend _____________ treatment?

  8. Are there other options if the ___________ treatment doesn’t work?

  9. What are the possible side effects of the treatment?

  10. How can the side effects be managed?

  11. Are there any precautions I need to take while undergoing this treatment?

  12. How much will this treatment cost? Are there cheaper alternatives?

  13. Can any of these treatments be done at home?

Animated group of four images. Each image shows a young patient being helped by an occupational therapist using different mobility assistance devices.

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Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can help you to better function at home, school or work and take part in recreational activities. Occupational therapists (OTs) are trained professionals who look at the issues that stop you doing all the things that are important to you.

What is the role of Occupational Therapists?

“Occupation” means more than just a job – it means all the things that you want to do, need to do or are expected to do during a regular day. Occupational therapy can help to reduce your pain. It can help to maximize your strength, endurance and physical function. Occupational therapy can also help you better manage your day-to-day activities while living with pain.

Examples of services that an Occupational Therapist can provide:

  • Helping you find strategies to pace your activities

  • Prescribing assistive aids or devices

  • Finding safer and more comfortable ways of carrying out activities

  • Identifying helpful sleep positions (you can get more tips, in the session My sleep)

  • Setting goals

  • Modifying and/or prioritizing activities

  • Building custom splints to protect your joints

  • Helping you modify your school and work tasks for success in functioning

Downloadable list of questions for a potential healthcare provider

Questions for a potential healthcare provider