Physiotherapy is considered to be a very holistic practice with professionals that have an understanding of the many factors that contribute to a patient’s health and wellbeing. Often there is more to rehabilitation than physical healing, exercise and ergonomic changes. Sometimes, there are other barriers to a person’s recovery that get overlooked, including a patient’s mental health.
Underlying mental health conditions or life-stressors can create an unreasonable amount of fear or anxiety surrounding an injury. A physiotherapist is by no means an expert in mental health conditions and how to treat them. However, they are very well placed to identify when a person’s mental health might be delaying their recovery. Other issues such as “pain focused behaviours” and “kinesiophobia” (fear of movement) can develop from previous injuries or experiences and can prevent improvement. Essentially, these behaviours are characterised by a constant avoidance of movement based on the fear of it causing pain. Movement is a key part of the recovery process. A lack of movement based on the fear of experiencing pain often creates a vicious cycle of chronic musculoskeletal pain and ongoing fear-avoidant behaviours.
A physiotherapist is in the best position to advise a patient on how much pain is okay to push through in order to achieve overall benefits. They are the experts in how to progress exercise and rehabilitation in a controlled way. A physio can also provide breathing techniques to help manage pain-related anxiety with exercise.
People come into this practice seeking our help and each person’s expectations of physiotherapy are very different. Some clients have had other injuries in the past and are familiar with the rehabilitation process. Others may have little experience with physiotherapists and may be more anxious about their injury or prognosis. These clients often require more reassurance or advice. A physiotherapist can provide some excellent strategies to manage injury-related stress in the rehab process. They will also identify if and when it is appropriate to refer the patient to a mental health professional in the management process, in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.