How NOT Knowing Can Make You a Better Sports Physiotherapist

I know what you are thinking, I really do. How can a lack of knowledge EVER make you a better physiotherapist? You are thinking it can’t! Well, you are probably right. Probably. But I feel that there are some times that not knowing something, a diagnosis, the best interventions, the current research, whatever, can make you a better sports physiotherapist in the eyes of your athlete.

When I do not know something – I mean flat out have no idea – I do two things. These two things are discussed below:


I admit that I do not know. When a patient asks me a question or has an obscure presentation which does not fit the norm, I will admit that I do not know all the answers. This can be a challenging thing to do, particularly upon an initial assessment when you are trying to build patient trust and rapport. First impressions last. This is why it is important to be honest and completely transparent. Patients are smart (well…some of them are), and they can tell when you are fumbling through a made up answer.

You will earn more respect if you say – “Ooh, good question. I don’t know.”. However, of course, it should never end there. You will have, I hope, some clues to the answer/diagnosis/evidence/treatment. So you could then say “But my thoughts are/My best guess is/I feel that it is…” and give them some answer. Or, there is another option. This is my favourite option, and it is normally the second thing I do.


The patient/athlete will be more content if you say to them “Ooh, good question. I don’t know – but I will find out for you.”. This shows that you care about their question and ultimately their well-being. Also, it means that when you come back and answer the question you will sound much more intelligent than fumbling through the “um, well, its when you, ah, have this thing that um” answer. Practicing a well-rehearsed answer in the mirror is optional.

The other reason you should find out is to impress the next person that asks the same question/presents with that condition etc. If you do not find out the answer then next time, and trust me there will be a next time, you still don’t know the answer. Only a fool will make the same mistake twice.


The end result of undertaking these two actions when you do NOT know something will make you a better sports physiotherapist. You will gain increased respect and trust from your athletes, as you are honest and transparent. Also, you will develop and grow through increasing your knowledge on relevant topics. Onward and upward guys.

What are your thoughts on admitting that you don’t know something? Be sure to let me know in the comments or catch me on Facebook or Twitter

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