Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of microblogs aimed at giving a basic understanding of some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book an assessment or contact reception for more information.

Is hot or cold best for sore muscles?

This is actually a topic of pretty intense debate, even after all of these years! We know that both heat and cold can provide good pain relief, so the difference really comes down to timing. In a fresh injury, I usually advise ice in the first 72 hours, as local of an area as possible, and for about 20 minutes three times a day. Beyond this, the research seems to say that going over the top with ice can actually slow down healing.

The side note here would be about ice baths for recovery, which come and go with other exercise trends. There’s no good evidence that ice baths speed up your recovery or make muscles work any better. They do however improve your perception of how well you’ve recovered after a big workout. The good old placebo effect maybe? If you’re going to give it a go, make sure to check in with your GP or physiotherapist first, and always have someone else around to help you.

After the first couple of days, I think heat makes more sense. It drives blood flow and nutrition to a healing area and can be really soothing, particularly for back pain. Heat can also make your soft tissues softer, potentially making moving and stretching a bit easier. Similar to the ice, I would recommend 20 minutes three times a day, just with a simple hot water bottle or wheat bag. One thing to be careful of here is that painful areas can sometimes lose their sense of hot and cold, so make sure that your skin doesn’t get irritated, and check the heat with an injured hand before you apply it.

Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of microblogs aimed at giving a basic understanding of some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book an assessment or contact reception for more information.

Will back pain be forever?

80% of the adult population will experience back pain this year, and for the vast majority, it will be no more serious than a cold. Even though the first few hours and days can be really uncomfortable, most people are pain-free within 2-4 weeks and will have no lasting issues.

As with all health issues, there is a small risk of back pain sticking around for more than 3 months. We can’t predict this perfectly, but we know that people who have a really distressing injury or other health issues can be at higher risk. Again, a bit like a cold, flu or stomach bug. We know that getting good advice and pain relief early on can take this risk right down, so if you’re worried then a simple checkup goes a long way.

All is not lost if people do end up with long term issues. I like to use the analogy of my own experiences with asthma, or even something like allergies. If I look after myself, take medication at the right times and recognise my triggers, I never really get any symptoms. The same is true of people with long term back pain, it really comes down to being an expert on your own issue, and having good people around you.

Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of microblogs aimed at giving a basic understanding of some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book an assessment or contact reception for more information.

Pain Medication: Importance of still feeling pain?

The first thing to recognise here is that pain isn’t just a physical thing, it's also an emotional and psychological response to keep us safe from harm. It’s really trying to change our behaviour when something is wrong, with the goal of giving us a better chance of staying or getting well. So completely wiping out pain with tons of pain relief is counterproductive, and taking lots of medication early and often can cause side effects.

The flip side to this is that we know a really strong and untreated early pain experience is also counterproductive. It makes it hard to get things moving and makes the pain more likely to stick around for longer. I use two quick questions to get an idea of how well someone has their pain under control. “Are you coping?”, “Are you able to sleep a full night despite the pain?”. If the answer is no for either, check in with your GP or pharmacist for some help.

Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of micro blogs aimed at giving a basic understanding to some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book for an assessment, or contact reception for more information.

What is manipulation and is it enough to treat injuries?

Have you ever clicked your fingers or between your shoulder blades and felt some pressure release? That’s manipulation; in technical terms it's a quick thrust right at the end of where a joint can move. There’s a bit of debate about what the “click” actually is, but our best guess is that quickly changing the shape and space of a joint makes tiny gas bubbles “pop”.

It can be a really useful treatment technique in the right situation, particularly for stiff backs, but there are a few caveats. Manipulating a joint early on can make swelling and damage worse; imagine trying to click your fingers when you’ve just sprained one. The other important thing is that manipulation is only for relieving pain and stiffness, it doesn’t solve your issue, or put anything into place.

You often hear about people going to get their backs “clicked” every week, and after a couple of days the effect wears off. It’s a bit like taking a cough drop or a panadol, you still need to put some work in with a well set out home programme if you want a long term fix.

Compiled by our Masters trained Physiotherapist Chris Smith. To book an appointment with Chris, or read his Meet the Team profile CLICK HERE

Why am I still in pain?

In a previous blog we explained why things hurt and how the bodies' pain system works. In this blog we will explain what persistent pain is, how common it is and why our pain systems sometimes still remain active when our injuries may have healed.

What is persistent pain?

As humans it makes sense to have a pain system as an alarm to warn us when we have injured our body. The pain signals us to change our behaviour and rest in order to allow our injuries to heal. Most soft tissues within the body including muscle, ligament, tendon and bone will heal in approximately 12 weeks, and therefore you would expect that as the injured tissue heals the corresponding pain signal we experience reduces in intensity to advise you to increase what you do without coming to further harm. The trouble is this doesn’t always happen!

Infact, up to 25% of people's pain still remains once the healing should have occured. Pain that does not settle in 3 months is termed chronic or persistent pain. To understand why this occurs we need to know a little more about our bodies pain systems. Electrical signals picked up in the injured tissue by pain cells (nociceptors) are passed into the spinal cord and then up to the brain for processing. Pain science has shown us that within the spinal cord and brain 2 types of sensitisation can occur which can amplify and prolong our pain experience.

These are called peripheral and central sensitisation. 


Peripheral sensitisation means increased pain sensitivity to movement or pressure in the area where the injury occurred. The injured area becomes sensitive to movement and touch that would usually be non-painful. This is a normal response and helpful following an injury. However, the longer your nervous system produces pain, the better it gets at producing it. Your body learns pain! This process is called central sensitisation and occurs in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Think of a sensitive car alarm going off with a strong gust of wind. The gust of wind (movement) is not dangerous anymore, but the car alarm (brain) is too sensitive. This type of sensitisation can keep driving pain long after the initial tissue healing has occurred and can go on for months and even years.

Scientists think that both genes and environment play a role in explaining why some patients develop central sensitisation and persistent pain and some do not. It is likely that the way humans perceive and make sense of their pain experience may lead to persistent pain. Our pain centres are in our brain and the brain also processes our thoughts and feelings. Stress, worries, fears and beliefs about the pain may all lead to prolonged pain. The pain can also have a wider impact on our lifestyle, jobs, relationships and hobbies, all of which can create worry, depression and frustration. These feelings can actually keep the pain system sensitised in the brain. It is well known for persistent low back pain for example that low mood, anxiety and depression and worries of long-term disability are associated with developing persistent pain.

How do I know if I have central sensitisation?

Firstly, if your pain has gone on for more than 3 months it is likely that some degree of central sensitisation may be occurring. There are some other signs also. If pain becomes more widespread and if it can be affected by lifestyle stressors easily then you may have central sensitisation. Also, if you’ve become more sensitive to stimuli that impact the nervous system. These may include movement, exercise, noise or light.

How do we help with persistent pain?

When managing persistent pain everyone's individual situation is different and will require a tailored approach. As physiotherapists we need to look at things more broadly in addition to specifically at the original injured area. Through asking further questions about lifestyle such as sleep, stress, beliefs, fears and general health we are likely to be able to suggest techniques to help calm down the pain. Techniques such as graded exercise, sleep hygiene, relaxation, meditation and mindfulness are essential to promote a calm environment for the pain to settle.

In addition it is important for patients to have a basic understanding of how pain works because once you understand why your pain remains and how common it is it can instantly make it less scary, worrying and reduce anxiety around the issue. The more you understand, the more empowered you feel to manage the pain.

As physiotherapists with holistic knowledge of pain science, psychology and physical activity and lifestyle we are well placed to treat people with persistent pain, Therefore, if you’re struggling with a persistent pain problem come in to see me or a member of our team for an assessment to see how we can help you move forwards.

Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of micro blogs aimed at giving a basic understanding to some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book for an assessment, or contact reception for more information.

What does tape do and how long does it last?

There’s lots of different types of tape, ranging from the super rigid brown sports tape through to paper thin and colourful “K-tape”. The common idea is to try to make an area more stable, or at least to give the area a bit more feedback and control. We used to think that tape holds an area in place, but what we know now is that the real effect is with position sense; helping you know where your joints and muscle are sitting.

I’ve seen plenty of physiotherapists advise to leave tape on for a couple of days, but I wouldn’t recommend anything more than 6 hours. If you sweat into the tape then let it dry, it turns into a kind of smelly paper mache, and it will take a few layers of skin off when you try to remove it. If you’re repeatedly taping for more than a few days make sure you wash your skin in between, let it dry thoroughly and check for any irritation.

Our Ask A Physio series is a collection of micro blogs aimed at giving a basic understanding to some frequently asked questions. If you have an injury or are experiencing discomfort please book for an assessment, or contact reception for more information.

What is the best immediate response to an injury?

Is RICE still a thing?? Absolutely! If we remember from health class, RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate for 72 hours.

In most cases rest means relative rest, not completely stopping everything. Unless you’ve fractured, dislocated or otherwise seriously injured something, keeping on with gentle exercise will help settle early inflammation.

Ice is actually a topic which gets us arguing about whether it's appropriate or not. My simple rule of thumb is if the injury is hot (throbbing, red, swelling), then ice it down for 20 minutes. You can do this 2-3 times a day, but going over the top with ice for a week or more can actually slow your healing down. 

Compression should be flexible and comfortable, and shouldn’t be a super rigid brace or splint early on. There is a tendency for injuries to stiffen up quite quickly in the first week, and stopping gentle movement can make this much worse. Again, the obvious exception would be a fracture, dislocation or something else really serious.

Elevation is pretty self explanatory, and probably isn’t as important as the other things you’ll do. It's most useful for ankle and knee injuries, just keep your leg up while you’re icing it to help with draining out any swelling.

Then book in to see a physio and we can get a plan happening so you'll be back to doing what you love!

Compiled by our Masters trained Physiotherapist Chris Smith. To book an appointment with Chris, or read his Meet the Team profile CLICK HERE

Why does my head hurt?

Headaches can be complicated! They can span from mild to debilitating and have a range of potential causes making them tricky to manage for patients and healthcare professionals. A physiotherapist's role in headache is to differentiate the likely cause of headache through thorough questioning and examination, and then refer to the correct health professional or attempt to treat the headaches if appropriate. So let's look at some types of headache first.

Headache classification

Broadly speaking headaches can be classified as primary and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are not caused by another disease process or condition and occur within the brain itself. The most common form of this is migraine, tension headache or headache from a cold or excess alcohol. Secondary headaches however develop as a secondary symptom to an underlying condition or anatomical structure. Examples of this include infection, head injury and tumor. As can be seen these types of headache may need immediate management and onward referral. Cervicogenic headache referred from the upper cervical spine (neck) is also a type of secondary headache.

Common types of headache

Tension-type headache -  The most common type of primary headache and affects more that 40% of the population worldwide. It is characterised by mild to moderate pressure on both sides of the head without any other symptoms. It is usually located around the temples  It is currently proposed that pain receptors in the muscles around the skull may be responsible for this type of headache.The pain with tension type headache tends to be pretty steady and chronic despite changes in activity

Migraine - Another common form of primary headache. Additional features in migraine are the inclusion of symptoms such as nausea, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and phonophobia (sensitivity to sound). Migraines are more commonly one sided. Change in physical activity often aggravates migraine headache. Migraines can also cause symptoms of Aura which includes visual, sensory, or speech symptoms that appear gradually, last no longer than 60 minutes, and are completely reversible.

Cervicogenic headache - The upper cervical spine (neck C1-3) shares common nerve structures to other parts of the brain and can refer pain into the head causing secondary headaches. This basically confuses the brain into thinking that the pain is coming from the head rather than the neck. These can follow episodes of head trauma or whiplash or start insidiously following periods of intense computer work. They are more commonly one sided and often associated with neck stiffness/pain, restricted neck movement and reproduction of pain/headache when therapists examine the neck.


There are also various muscles around the head and neck which have the potential to refer pain into the head to be perceived as headaches.

Trigger point referral patterns from Upper fibres of trapezius and sternocleidomastoid.

How can physiotherapy help?  

If the neck joints of muscles are thought to be responsible for a headache then treatment of these structures with manual therapy and exercise may help in the management of reducing cervicogenic headache. In relation to cervicogenic headaches research has demonstrated that physiotherapy for 6 weeks comprising both exercise and manual therapy in addition to a combined approach of the 2 interventions  can significantly reduce headache frequency, intensity and neck pain 6 weeks of treatment.  We also have clinicians trained in the Watson Headache technique in order to assess the upper neck and treat with manual therapy. So if a headache is bothering you come and see one of the physiotherapists trained in headaches to see if we can help.

Shoulder Pain: When Should I Be Worried?

The shoulder is a pretty remarkable piece of kit; it’s by far the most flexible joint in our body, capable of loading up in an almost infinite combination of movements. It’s also the fastest; a good thrower can make it turn at an acceleration of 6000-7000 degrees per second! All this performance doesn’t come without a few issues though, and shoulder injuries are some of the most common reasons people come to our clinic.

The most common pattern we see is called rotator cuff related pain, sometimes also called bursitis, impingement, subacromial syndrome or any combination of those. This is generally from a big spike in how much you’ve been using your shoulder. Think push up challenges during the COVID lockdowns, heavy loads of laundry, or doing lots of throwing after time off over winter. It’s a soft tissue injury, irritation or damage to the big 4 muscles which rotate your shoulder, and the network of other tissues around them.

Most of the time, this is pretty simple to manage. Early on, basic range of motion, grip strength and gentle loading exercises help to keep things steady. This is also where you might consider some pain relief, heat packs and making sure you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep and food.

*Example movement exercises courtesy of Physiotec - the program we use to provide patients with their individualised exercise programs.

If you find that after 5-7 days of this, the pain is sticking around and you’re still a bit weak or stiff, a good physiotherapist can point you in the right direction with more specific exercises targeted at your specific issues. If this sounds like you, you shouldn’t be worried at all. These injuries can be a bit stubborn and take a few months to settle completely, but it’s rare for them to stick around beyond that.

More serious shoulder injuries can be spotted by pain levels, strength levels and by big, fast, high impact stories. Normal rotator cuff pain will settle with rest, basic pain relief and heat. If you find that isn’t that case and your pain is throbbing when you’re at rest or trying to sleep, it’s a good idea to get checked out. If you get really weak after your injury, with or without pain, then that can also be a sign of some more substantial soft tissue damage. It’s actually not uncommon for more serious rotator cuff injuries to be pretty much pain free early on. If you can’t lift your shoulder above rib height in the first 48 hours, and you can’t support the weight of your own arm, that’s another reason to come in ASAP for some more tests.

Lastly, if you got injured by something big, heavy and/or fast, then there’s a higher chance of something serious happening. This is particularly true if you felt the joint “pop” in or out, or if you felt something move in the joint. You don’t necessarily need surgery if this is the case, but catching big injuries early on gives us a much better chance of getting you a good outcome.

The bottom line is to keep moving, do your basic rest and pain relief early on, and if there’s anything stubborn or suspicious from what I’ve mentioned above, then come in for a check up.

Sexual Pains & Physiotherapy

Sexual Pain (dyspareunia) can affect up to 75% of women at some stage in their life according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. At any given time, 7.5% of the female population are having painful intercourse. This may occur from an individual's first sexual experience or may develop at different stages throughout their life. It can occur in heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Understandably, it can have a significant effect on an individual's ability to engage in intercourse. Women report avoiding sexual activity, losing their desire to engage, struggling with arousal, enjoyment and climax. This can cause strain on relationships and further psychology stress, worry and negative body image.

Symptoms associated with painful intercourse include:

 - Pain with vaginal examinations/smear test
 - Pain with tampon usage
 - Bladder urgency/frequency or night time toileting
 - Urinary incontinence
 - Difficulty urinating
 - Constipation or urgency to pass a bowel motion
 - Pain with masturbation or foreplay
 - Lower back/pelvic pain
 - Pain sitting on a bike/horse riding

The pelvic floor is the muscular hammock to the body.

Its role is:
 - To hold your urine/faeces/wind
 - To let go of your urine/faeces/wind
 - To support your pelvic organs
 - To support your back and abdomen
 - Allow for penetration
 - Allow for orgasm

Generally, women who present to physiotherapy with the above complaints may have an overactive/uncoordinated pelvic floor. This is when the pelvic floor muscles have tightened or do not have enough length. This is how the body involuntarily tries to protect itself from pain.

Common causes of sexual pain include:

 - Lactation
 - Menopause
 - Child birth
 - History of infection eg. UTIs, thrush, STIs
 - Vulvodynia/vestibulodynia
 - Vaginismus
 - Skin conditions eg. Lichen schlerosis
 - Excessive high intensity exercise
 - Pelvic organ prolapse
 - Psychological conditions eg. Anxiety/depression
 - Chronic Pelvic Pain eg. Endometriosis/IBS/PCOS/adenomyosis/fibromyalgia
 - Previous surgeries including C-Section and laproscopic
 - Lower back/coccyx or hip pain/injuries
 - A history of trauma or pain
 - Neuralgia

There are two main types of sexual pain: deep and superficial. However, some individuals can have both and fluctuations between symptoms. Pain can occur prior to or during penetration, throughout intercourse or afterwards. It can even persist for up to 3 days. It can be sharp, burning, achy, tight or cutting in nature.

Sexual activity is an emotional, psychological and physical experience. Pelvic Health Physiotherapy can help you identify some of the primary causes and secondary complications of sexual pain.

Treatments include:

 - Pelvis/pelvic floor awareness education
 - Lubrication advice
 - Desensitisation/electrical stimulation therapies
 - Toileting advice
 - Bladder retraining
 - Biofeedback
 - Dilator therapy
 - Myofascial release
 - Scar massage
 - Pelvic floor relaxation
 - Mindfulness

As Pelvic Health Physiotherapists we work alongside Psychologists, Gynaecologists, GPs, Sexual Health Doctors and Sex Therapists.

Here at Auckland Physiotherapy, we have a Real-Time Ultrasound machine which can be used as an assessment tool as well as an adjunct in your therapy.

Prior to seeing your physiotherapist, we recommend you see your GP to rule out any potential pathology that may be causing your pain.

Patients are entitled to see their physiotherapist individually or you may bring a support person/partner with you if you wish.

Auckland Physiotherapy Limited © 2021
Website Design & Development by