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  • Why physios make the worst patients (but that can be a good thing)

    Author: Nicole Madigan

Physiotherapists have a tendency to both overestimate and underestimate their own injuries, but can benefit from the experience, says physiotherapist and clinical educator, Dave Renfrew.

Underestimation comes when they confuse knowledge of injuries in general to knowledge of their own injury, ultimately underestimating the severity of it based on how it feels, says Mr Rendrew.

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“Or they let their knowledge of potential bad injuries influence their judgment, and overestimate the severity of the injury.

“They think they know everything and so tend to not do what they are told. As soon as you can experience an injury or pain, while you are the expert in how it feels, you can't be objective around what it is and what to do about it.”

Mr Rendrew said one of the physiotherapists in his team, who regularly treats runners and therefore sees a lot of bone injuries, recently had a bone stress injury.

“The funny thing as a physio is, because you know what could go wrong, when things hurt, you tend towards the worst case scenario, but most of the time you're overreacting,” he says.

“We discussed her symptoms as a team, but when they got worse, she had imaging which showed it actually was bad.”

Mr Renfrew said physiotherapists tended to make bad patients, despite frequently giving other people advice and expecting them to follow it.

“But then we think we're special and don't have to follow the rules as patients. Because we think we know a lot, we think we can push it more than we should.

“So even though my physio could plan her own rehab, because we know that could lead to mistakes and possible complications, she outsourced the decision making to a sports doctor we work with and then got another one of my team to plan her rehab."

There are some benefits to having an injury though, including relatability to the patient.

“When patients know you are injured, particularly a similar injury, they know that you know what it feels like, so it builds a closer therapeutic relationship, which helps recovery,” Mr Renfrew says.

“I'm not suggesting physios intentionally injure themselves, but it is instructive as a learning experience and I think makes you a better therapist. It teaches you an excellent lesson on what it is like on the other side of the patient-therapist interaction.

“You get an understanding of pain, concern, worry, fear, what it takes to recover, the impact it can have on other aspects of your life.

“It also gives you first hand experience of being in the health system at the patient end, how it is navigating it and what makes for a positive or negative experience. It is invaluable, particularly for newer clinicians.”

Mr Renfrew says the most important thing to remember, if you are an injured therapist, It’s always best to get an objective opinion.

“How something feels, while obviously an important part of the picture, isn't a great way to decide on the health of tissue,” Mr Renfrew says.

“Get a colleague to assess it, be it physio, sports physician. Listen to the advice. All people should be critical of the information received, but if it is evidence based advice and in your best interests, then do what you are told. Even if you don't want to.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.