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What to Expect in Physical Therapy

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

October is national physical therapy month! So we're gonna talk about all things physical therapy and the burning questions that you didn't even know to ask!

What REALLY happens in physical therapy?

Does PT really stand for "pain and torture"?

First and foremost, physical therapy should start with a thorough EVALUATION that includes history taking that dives deep into what brings you to physical therapy (typically pain or injury), your medical history including previous injuries (as they can often play a role and give the therapist clues with examination), as well as determining what your goals are.

The evaluation then proceeds to look at your WHOLE body (not just the location of pain), assessing things such as range of motion, strength, joint mobility, biomechanics, muscle imbalances, etc.

At your first visit, your physical therapist will create a plan of attack (also known as a plan of care lol). Your treatment plan may include manual therapy: hands-on care (may feel like a massage to you but it's targeted toward certain muscles), dry needling, cupping, and instrument-assisted soft tissue techniques. Your plan of care should also include therapeutic exercises with exercises that target areas of weakness identified during your evaluation, as well as exercises that target muscle imbalances.

Traditional physical therapy dictated by insurance approval and payment often does not allow continuation of treatment up to the point that you are able to return to your chosen activity. It is possible that your therapist may have to discharge you from physical therapy before you are entirely back to where you want to be (a huge con of being seen in an insurance-driven facility).

However, there are physical therapists who treat outside the confines of insurance and CAN help you get back to full activity and prevent re-injury! This form of care is often referred to as wellness because you are not only dealing with a present injury, you are trying to get back to recreational activity (and then surpass where you were pre-injury!).

Probably the biggest part of physical therapy is EDUCATION. Education on how to recover, proper exercise techniques, how to manage your symptoms should this occur again, and education on how to progress slowly and appropriately with your activity so that you don't have a setback.

What issues can a physical therapist help with?

Did you know that physical therapists can help with a multitude of different issues?

Here are some of them, just to name a few!

  • Stroke

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Diabetes

  • Incontinence

  • Heart Attack

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  • Spinal cord injury

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Constipation

  • Lymphedema

  • Recovery from COVID

  • Dizziness

  • Developmental Delays

  • Post-polio syndrome

  • Chronic Pain

  • Obesity

  • COPD

  • Pain with sex

  • Parkinson's

  • Concussion

  • Cancer

  • Balance problems

(I purposely didn't include orthopedic issues, which hands down we can help with. We can also help you to avoid heavy pain meds, avoid surgery, and rehab you if you do need surgery).

Do any of these issues that physical therapists can help with surprise you?

And that list just covers when you're having an issue...did you know that you should see a physical therapist even when you're not injured?!?!? (WAIT, WHATTTTT???!?!).

Why would I need help from a physical therapist if I'm not actually injured?

Did you know that physical therapists are the PERFECT provider to help you in your health journey? We are the original health coach!

How can we help:

  • injury prevention: we are movement experts and we can observe your movements and identify dysfunction in how you move that may predispose you to injury.

  • improve your fitness: like injury prevention, we can identify factors that may be impeding you from reaching your goals or help you break past a plateau to move more efficiently.

  • recovery: we can help you to recover more quickly and stay in the game

  • coaching for things such as stress management through implementing lifestyle changes

  • education and coaching on a healthy lifestyle and implementing such changes

  • accountability to keep you moving forward.

And that’s just to name a few! A physical therapist should definitely be a provider that you regularly rely on to keep you in tip-top shape. Check out my post to learn why or why not physical therapy may be right for you.

Why would I want to go see a physical therapist directly?

First of all, in case you didn't know...YOU CAN access your physical therapist directly. You do not have to see your doctor first! And actually, it's better if you do. Read on to find out more.

In two different studies, the first one ranked physicians ranging from specialists to medical students and tested their knowledge of the musculoskeletal system and ranked who had the most knowledge. To no surprise, orthopedic surgeons ranked at the top (completely understandable).

In a subsequent study, which then used data from the first study for comparison, physical therapists were tested on their knowledge of the musculoskeletal system.

Pay attention here...the results were this: Physical therapists scored 2nd place in their knowledge of the musculoskeletal system, just under orthopedic surgeons. They surpassed primary care physicians, general practitioners as well as other specialties and medical students. Even physical therapy students scored higher than all of these.

SO WHAT IS THE TAKEAWAY?!?!? Physical therapists are highly skilled and trained at the doctorate level to treat your musculoskeletal issues. By having direct access you are immediately reaching someone more knowledgeable in terms of treating musculoskeletal problems than having to go first to your primary care physician or general practitioner. That saves you both time and money!

(If you're kinda nerdy like me and want the research article, you can find it here).

I realize that you may be thinking yeah but what if my pain problem is not actually musculoskeletal in nature but something else more serious? Don't I need to see my PCP or GP before seeing a physical therapist for this very reason?

Good question!

Actually NO you do not. Save your time and your money. Physical therapists are now trained at the doctoral level for this very reason. We are now educated to be independent providers and that training includes being able to determine what is in our scope of practice and when we need to refer you to a different provider.

Just think, now you can address your issue more quickly by immediately contacting a physical therapist, you can save some money by only seeing that one provider, and rest assured that if the issue is not one that can be addressed by a physical therapist, we have the training and knowledge to refer you to someone who can help you.

There are many things about the healthcare system that are broken including the cost of things, a shortage of providers, as well as an over-reliance on heavy pain medications. This is one possible solution for all those things that's not being utilized enough. This not only saves you money but also opens up the schedules of general physicians so that they can help their patients with the issues they are well equipped to handle and leave the musculoskeletal problems to the experts in movement, doctors of physical therapy (DPT). (Not to mention that seeing a physical therapist is a medication-free option that is much healthier and kinder to your body).

Did you know this information prior to today? Do you visit your physical therapist without going to your doctor first?

What is the difference between physical therapy and physiotherapy?

Did you know that physiotherapy is the same as physical therapy? Physio, physical therapy...all the same profession. If you're in the US, you've likely most often heard it referred to as physical therapy. If you're from outside the US, physiotherapy is more often used. However if you haven't noticed the term physio is starting to be used more here in the US, particularly with small business, private practice niche clinics.

Did you know this before today? Or did you think there was a difference? (If so I'm truly just curious, but what difference did you think there was?).

Are you struggling with an issue and wondering if physical therapy can help? Call or text me at 214-308-1698 and I can help you figure this out! And if you haven't already, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram!

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