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Accessing physiotherapy

If you need physiotherapy a number of different options are available to you.

You can see a physiotherapist: 

  • by getting a referral from a doctor
  • by contacting a physiotherapist directly
  • at your GP surgery
  • privately

Physiotherapy can also sometimes be accessed through occupational health services, charities, patient groups and the voluntary sector.

Physiotherapy is available free of charge on the NHS throughout the UK.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to self-refer (see below) or you may need to visit your GP or consultant first. After discussing your symptoms with your doctor, they may then refer you to a physiotherapist.

You can search for physiotherapy services near you to find out where you may be referred to.

Some areas in the UK offer a self-referral service, which means you can make an appointment to see an NHS physiotherapist without having to see a doctor first.

However, this isn't available everywhere. Staff at your GP surgery or your local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) or hospital trust should be able to tell you whether it's available in your area.

Self-referral is particularly suitable for people with relatively simple conditions such as joint pain, strains or other injuries.

If you have more complex needs – for example, you have movement problems caused by a stroke or multiple sclerosis (MS) – you may still need a referral from a doctor.

Some physiotherapists also work in GP practices as the first point of contact for patients with musculoskeletal problems, such as neck or back pain, and those with long-term conditions, such as MS or stroke.

When contacting your GP surgery, you may be offered to see the physiotherapist directly, instead of having to see the GP first.

Physiotherapists working in these roles may have advanced skills, such as prescribing and ordering scans.

Waiting lists for NHS physiotherapy can be long and some people choose to have private treatment instead. If you see a physiotherapist privately, you'll have to pay for treatment.

You can usually approach a private physiotherapist directly without a referral from a doctor.

When choosing a private physiotherapist, make sure they're:

You can find a private chartered physiotherapist near you using CSP's Physio2u directory. You can also use the Find a physio search facility on the Physio First website.

Physiotherapy may be available through your workplace.

Some companies provide occupational health services, which include physiotherapy treatment. Check with your manager or Human Resources department to see if it's available where you work.