How Many Physiotherapy Sessions Do I Need?
Factors That Can Affect How Fast You Recover
1. Severity of your pain
Typically, the more intense your pain level is, the longer it might take for recovery. In physiotherapy, we often use the numeric pain scale of 0 – 10, with “0” meaning no pain, while “10” equates to the worst pain you can imagine (eg. delivering a baby or passing a kidney stone).
This is a personal rating, meaning that your pain level of 5 out of 10 is not the same as your friend who also rates their pain 5 out of 10. Rating your pain severity helps your physiotherapist understand what it means to you and to better track your recovery.
8 Versus 2
For example, if you rate your pain intensity an 8 out of 10 on your first visit, your physiotherapist might focus treatment on helping reduce your pain. If your pain intensity is 2 out of 10, then your physio might instead focus more on your biomechanical analysis. Your treatment may be aimed at strengthening the involved areas and improving your endurance.
2. How acute is your injury or how long have you had your injury
How long have you had your symptoms has a strong correlation with how many physiotherapy treatments you will likely need. In general, if your pain has only been around for a short time, the faster your recovery and fewer visits you will probably need.
This connection is why it is recommended that you have your symptoms assessed and treated by your physio sooner rather than later. The longer you have had the pain the more your body has to accommodate and compensate during your daily activities. This can also lead to a more complicated recovery process.
Your ankle bone is connected to your shin bone
For example, you may have a mild ankle sprain that causes a bit of pain with every step. Your steps or gait are now altered to try and reduce the feeling of pain. Your initial mild pain can now worsen and turn into moderate pain with every step after a week.
Over the next few months to years, this can then eventually lead to other pains such as knee pain, hip or back pain. Following this, you may not notice your ankle as much as now your back is in more pain. All of this can develop from an ankle injury that was ignored for too long.
3. What caused your pain to start
The cause of your injury can also affect your recovery. With simple sprains or strains, the typical acute recovery period is in the range of a few weeks.
However, with more traumatic injuries, your recovery process becomes more complex. Some examples of traumas that often result in more complicated recoveries include:
- Chronic pain lasting longer than 3 months
- Competing while injured
- Falls from a height
- High level athletics
- Impacts absorbed during contact sports such as hockey, football or rugby
- Injuries requiring surgery
- Low to high velocity impact such as motor vehicle collision
- Physically demanding job details
- Repeated injuries to the same area
- Work injuries that lead to needing to be away from work for more than 1 week
With any of the above examples, recovery can often take longer than a few weeks. In these cases, earlier treatment with physiotherapy will usually provide better outcomes.
4. Your involvement in your care and recovery
How involved you are with your treatment and rehab can affect how well you recover. If you attend 2 sessions of physiotherapy lasting 30 minutes each, that still leaves 6 days and 23 hours where you are on your own.
Your physiotherapist can act as your guide to speed up your recovery process by using the most efficient treatment approaches. Part of your treatment will usually include instructions on home care. This may be to simply use ice every 3 hours, to do a specific stretch or steps to correct your posture.
Patients who are better able to closely follow their physiotherapists’ recommendations will likely have the best outcomes. They return to activity faster and experience fewer future relapses.
5. Knowing your goals for treatment
This is the most important question you will be asked as a patient. Your answer helps your healthcare practitioner prioritize your treatment plan appropriately.
Sleep or run
For instance, if your goal is to relieve pain so you can sleep on your back, your sessions will be used to find out what is causing your sleep troubles. Next, treatment strategies to relieve your pain will be used.
If your goal is instead to race in a 10k run in 2 weeks, your rehab regimen would be very different. This is why it is important for you to inform your practitioner both your current and long term goals for care.
Making Sense Of The Past
Sometimes, you may not be aware that your old ankle injury from 2 years ago is contributing to the back pain you are feeling right now. This is why it is important to both relieve your back pain as well as address what was leading to your developing back pain, namely your old ankle injury.
Your physiotherapist can help you make sense of these connections. The deeper you dig, the better you will be able to regain proper movement and reduce the likelihood of future injuries.
As you progress through your sessions, you can periodically ask yourself, “Am I feeling better or making progress?“. If your answer is, “yes”, then you likely on the right track. If you are not sure of the answer, have a chat with your physio.
Q: What does a physiotherapist do?
A: Your physiotherapist is a movement and function expert. They help assess and diagnose a variety a body injuries and problems. These can include things such as back pain, headache, ankle sprains, motor vehicle accident injuries, vertigo, post-surgical rehab and concussion therapy.
Q: What type of treatment is physiotherapy?
A: Your physiotherapist is a university-trained healthcare practitioner. Your treatment with your physio can include things such as exercise rehab, manual therapy and other modalities.
Q: How long will it take me to get better?
A: There are many factors that affect how quickly you get better. A minor injury may only need a few weeks. Chronic or longstanding problems may take months. Your physical health, daily activities and type of injury will also impact your progress.