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HEALTH MATTERS: You don’t have to live with muscle and joint pain

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Many muscle and joint problems can be managed with exercises at home to strengthen your body.
Many muscle and joint problems can be managed with exercises at home to strengthen your body.

A lot more common than we think are musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries and conditions.

They cover a wide range of conditions such as soft tissue injuries, sprains, sports injuries, joint arthritis, problems with muscles, ligaments, tendons or bones – the list goes on and on!

These conditions can happen at any time and to anyone, no matter how fit and healthy they are. You could injure yourself at work or from playing sports, by having an accident or nasty fall, or maybe even from doing everyday activities and tasks – let’s be honest, we’re not all as young as we once were!

Leaving MSK injuries and conditions untreated can lead to further complications and can be tough on us. Not only physically in our normal day-to-day activities, but living with pain while juggling a busy life is difficult on our wellbeing too. There are lots of reasons people put off getting support for their MSK conditions: no access to a physiotherapist, not thinking your injury is bad enough, or feeling like you just don’t have the time.

However, you don’t have to live with muscle and joint pain. Our first contact physiotherapist service within GP practice is here to help you.

First contact physiotherapists (FCPs) are advanced practice physiotherapists based in your GP practice. They enable fast access to see a physiotherapy specialist and excellent support for any MSK conditions. The service began in 2019, and has since grown. There is an FCP in every GP practice in the Highland HSCP area, and on average we see 35,000 of patients per year.

A national evaluation by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy showed that through the FCP service, patients had faster access to see a specialist, fewer onward referrals to see a hospital consultant, and on average 95 per cent of patients didn’t require a follow up with a GP.

We’ve had some excellent feedback from patients, including those who have never seen a physio before, saying it was a “very positive experience” and that “having the ability to access physio via the GP surgery is so quick and easy”.

When you visit your FCP, they may assess and diagnose you, give expert advice on the best way to manage your condition, or refer you on to specialist services if necessary. And now, the FCP service has recently launched a year-long trial use of Phio: a digital MSK physiotherapy assessment product. We’re the first NHS board in Scotland to trial its use within primary care as an additional way to help support you with your MSK conditions.

Many muscle and joint problems can be managed with exercises at home to strengthen your body. In fact, 73 per cent of GPs recommend self-directed exercises for muscle and joint problems. Phio is a free, interactive online product that quickly and accurately signposts you to the right care in the right place, to support your MSK condition. Based on your responses during the initial assessment, you will be signposted to the right care, which might be self-management, face-to-face care with a GP or an FCP, or urgent care if this is needed.

The launch of Phio will improve access to physiotherapy services within general practice, help support GP workload, and enhance the existing FCP service capacity. Since it’s available at any time of day, from any location, on any device with internet access, you don’t have to be available at a particular time for an appointment or wait for the next available appointment slot – perfect for those busybodies who think they don’t have time to seek help!

Anyone aged 16 or over and registered with any GP practice in NHS Highland with pain or discomfort relating to muscles, joints or ligaments can try Phio. You can read more about Phio at www.nhshighland.scot.nhs.uk/fcp.

So, if you’ve got an ache, pain, strain or sprain, get started with managing your condition today. Simply contact your GP surgery to ask about Phio, or ask to see your FCP.

By Jude Arnaud, NHS Highland’s clinical lead for first contact physiotherapists in general practice.

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