Should I see Physio or GP

Should I see a Physiotherapist or a GP? 

Written by: Sal – Founder and Director of Barefoot Physiotherapist. Should I see a Physiotherapist or a GP? When you are in Pain it can be tricky knowing whether it is best to see a Physiotherapist or the GP. While every situation is different, I’m going to do my best to help you with that decision.  

TLDR: if in doubt ring the Physio clinic as it is more than likely you’ll be able to speak to a physio and they’ll be able to help you as based on your symptoms they’ll know. 

The different roles 

When deciding if you should see a Physiotherapist or a GP you first need to consider their roles. A Musculoskeletal Private Practice Physiotherapist takes care of people with pain, injury or restriction in their body. They are highly trained in Muscles, Joints, Nerves, Ligaments, Pain Science, Rehabilitation, Exercises and Education. They are a first contact practitioner, meaning you do not need a referral to see them.  

A General Practitioner (GP) is a doctor who is also qualified in general medical practice. GPs are often the first point of contact for someone, of any age, who feels sick or has a health concern. They treat a wide range of medical conditions and health issues. 

Making the Decision to see a Physiotherapist or a GP?

Essentially if a condition is Musculoskeletal in nature, you are best to see a Physiotherapist. If this is unclear and other systems may be involved or further investigations needed it is best to see your GP first.  

Here is a table of presentations that may help you decide if seeing a Physio or GP first is right for you 

Back pain – acute or longer term, mild to strong pain.  Severe back pain with radiating leg pain (for appropriate medication) 
Rolled ankle – acute or longer term, mild to strong pain Suspected fractured ankle (for referral for imaging) 
Neck pain – acute or longer term, restriction range of motion, symptoms down arm Neck pain due to concussion or accident 
Headaches – linked to neck/jaw/upper back tightness Unexplained headaches – may have changes in vision/nausea/face pain 
Muscle tightness – potentially tight through shoulders or hamstrings Muscle weakness and altered sensations in muscles 
Shoulder pain – acute or longer term, mild to strong pain, tightness, restricted movement Acute shoulder acute injury that may be a dislocation or collar bone fracture to go to Emergency Department
Mid back/rib pain – stiffness, tightness, restricted movement.  Acute severe mid back/rib pain – or night pain in mid back.  
Hip/pelvis pain – tightness, restricted movement, acute or longer term Unable to pass urine, numbness through saddle region, strange sensations through pelvis 
Knee pain – acute or longer term, mild to strong pain. Suspected ligament/meniscal injuries. OA Suspected fracture in leg (for referral for imaging). Unexplained severe swelling of knee.  

Collaboration between Physiotherapists and GPs 

Physiotherapist and GPs often complement each other’s care. For example, the person that presents to the GP with a suspected fractured ankle is first referred for imaging. They are then cleared of fracture and referred to the Physiotherapist for their ongoing care. The Physiotherapist is confident that there is another Health Professional on their team in taking care of this client and keeps the GP informed on progress of the client.  

In more complex presentations where, for example, a diagnosis of Hypermobility disorder is suspected by the Physiotherapist. Working collaboratively with the GP to ascertain whether this is the case provides high level care for the client.  

Open clear communication between the Health Professionals is paramount to best client care.  

What to do next 

If in doubt about whether you should see a Physiotherapist or a GP ring the Physio clinic. It is more than likely you’ll be able to speak to a physio and they’ll be able to help you decide based on your symptoms. 

If you are in Brisbane and would like to see one of our Physios BOOK ONLINE or call 1300 842 850.  

You may be interested in reading How can Physiotherapy help Back Pain or Physiotherapy for Headaches  

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