As a practicing Physical Therapist, I have seen and heard many misconceptions about physical therapy. Through family, friends, patients and the media, I have heard wide and varied beliefs about who physical therapists are and what we do. Let me help clarify some of the more common misunderstandings.
Myth #1: I need a doctor's prescription to see a physical therapist.
Physical Therapists are doctors; we are educated at a doctorate level, similar to a medical doctor, and receive a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) upon completion of 7 years of higher education. In the State of Colorado health care consumers have direct access to physical therapy. This means that you can see physical therapist without a referral from a physician. Although a few remaining insurance companies require the referral, most do not. You can call your physical therapist to find out whether or not your insurance requires one.
Myth #2: Physical Therapy is for people who have surgery.
Yes, physical therapy is appropriate for most people that have undergone surgery. However, physical therapists do much more than that. In fact, research shows that physical therapy is one of the most effective treatments for neck and back pain. Physical therapists also treat a wide variety of impairments that range from dizziness to sports injuries, maternity care to strokes and spinal cord injuries to balance problems. Some physical therapists provide wound care, lymphedema and pelvic floor treatment. We also provide preventative health care such as education and injury screenings to keep you moving healthfully. So if you have pain or are having difficulty moving, ask a physical therapist if they can help you. They most likely can.
Myth #3: Physical Therapy is painful.
I have had many people jokingly accuse me of being a "physical terrorist" or ask if I enjoy hurting people all day long. However, the goal of physical therapy is to minimize and/or resolve pain so that you can function better. Sometimes advancing/restoring your range of motion, especially after surgery, can be painful and often new exercises will cause temporary muscle soreness. But most of the time the saying "no pain, no gain" does not apply. Physical therapists work within your pain tolerance and use a variety of tools and techniques to reduce the pain you experience.
Myth #4: Physical therapy can't help me; I need surgery.
Research has shown that in most cases physical therapy is as effective as surgery when treating neck and back pain, joint pain and many other orthopedic injuries and problems. Coupled with the fact that physical therapy treatment is less costly and less invasive, it is often recommended as the first option of care for most people. Even in the case where surgery is needed, physical therapy can play a vital role in optimizing surgical outcomes by improving strength and functional movement prior to the surgery. So before you decide on surgery, visit with a physical therapist to see if physical therapy just might be the best choice for you!
Hopefully this helps to clarify some of the misconceptions about physical therapy. If you have more questions, don't hesitate to give us a call.
Katie Larson, PT, DPT, OCS