Physical Therapy Myths
Physical therapists are movement specialists
October is National Physical Therapy month.
As we celebrate physical therapy as a profession it seems like an opportune time to talk about what physical therapy is and dispel some popular myths.
The American Physical Therapy Association says, “Physical therapists are movement experts who optimize quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.”
Physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professions. According to the APTA their education includes “an extensive background in the sciences, focusing on physics, anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and kinesiology. With this background, physical therapists are able to restore and maximize mobility.”
Physical therapists work in a variety of settings. These can include: outpatient clinics, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, schools, and home-health settings.
Physical therapists can choose to focus on a particular area of clinic practice. These areas include: acute care, cardiovascular and pulmonary, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports, and women’s and men’s health.
The APTA recently conducted a survey to find what are the most common myths about physical therapy. Here is what they found along with some of my own thoughts as an out-patient orthopedic physical therapist.
Myth: I need a physician’s referral to see a physical therapist.
Fact: The survey revealed 70% of people think a referral or prescription is required for evaluation by a physical therapist. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC) allow patients to be evaluated by a physical therapist without a physician’s prior referral. In addition, 48 states and DC allow for some form of treatment or intervention without a physician referral or prescription.
Washington State allows the evaluation and treatment by a physical therapist without a physician referral. You should always check with your insurance company however as some insurance companies will only cover physical therapy services if there is a physician’s referral on file.
Physical therapists are trained in medical screening and they have the knowledge and the tools to know when your symptoms may warrant physical therapy treatment and when you should seek out your physician or general practitioner.
Myth: Physical therapy is painful.
Fact: Physical therapists seek to minimize pain and discomfort—even if it is chronic or long-term. They work within your pain threshold to help you heal, and restore movement and function. The survey found that 71% of people who have never visited a physical therapist think physical therapy is painful. That percentage significantly decreased, however, among patients who had visited a physical therapist within the past year.
Pain is your body’s way of telling you to pay attention to what is happening. A physical therapist can help educate you on different types of body pains and what they might mean. They can help you learn to listen to your body and work with it instead of against it.
Myth: Physical therapy is only for injuries and accidents.
Fact: Physical therapists do a lot more than just stretch or strengthen weak muscles after an injury or surgery. As experts in the way the body moves, they are skilled at evaluating and diagnosing potential problems before they lead to more serious injuries or disabling conditions. Physical therapists help people of all ages and abilities reduce pain, improve or restore mobility, and stay active and fit throughout life.
A physical therapist can help you optimize your running stride to help you run faster. They might evaluate your work station set up to decrease your risk of a work injury. They may help prepare your body for childbirth. They can prescribe an exercise program for you to lower your risk of a heart attack. They may evaluate your home environment to help decrease hazards that may put you at risk for falling.
Physical therapists are licensed health care professionals
Myth: Any health care professional can perform physical therapy.
Fact: Although the survey found that 42% of consumers are aware that physical therapy can be performed only by a licensed physical therapist, 37% still believe that other health care professionals can provide physical therapy. While physical therapists and other health care professionals may perform some treatments that seem similar, physical therapy can be provided only by licensed physical therapists.
Graduating physical therapists today have a doctorate in physical therapy. They have to go to school for 6 to 7 years after high school. Many go on to earn specialist certification in specific practice areas.
Myth: Physical therapy isn’t covered by insurance.
Fact: Most insurance policies cover some form of physical therapy. Beyond insurance coverage, physical therapy has shown to reduce costs by helping people avoid unnecessary imaging scans, surgery, prescription drugs. Physical therapy can also lower costs by helping patients avoid falls or by addressing conditions before they become chronic.
It is helpful to check with your insurance company to find out what specific therapy benefits you have.