Answered: Your Most Burning Questions About Physical Therapy
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had an injury and been told to see a Physical Therapist.
Keep your hand raised if you’re in the middle of a sandwich line, and everyone is staring at you now because you randomly raised your hand.
You know what’s even more ridiculous than making a fool of yourself in public because a blog post told you to? The idea that physical therapy is only beneficial for post-surgery recovery or assigning you a list of exercises. Because here’s a little secret—physical therapy has a lot of unspoken benefits, and it’s time we bust some myths surrounding the practice so we can finally reap those advantages.
Now, keep your hand confidently raised, throw some veggies on that sandwich, and make everyone think you know something they don’t. Because, well, now you do.
I know I called it a little secret, but honestly, that’s only because the physical therapy profession has done a not-so-great job marketing themselves to the general public and other healthcare professionals.
So let’s set the record straight and address the most common myths about physical therapy. And you can put your hand down now.
1. AREN'T ALL PHYSICAL THERAPISTS THE SAME?
Alright, listen up, folks—all physical therapy is not created equal.
A good physical therapy practice should focus on the patient and provide personalized one-on-one care. But most practices like this are typically cash-based and out-of-network, so we write them off. But that’s only because we’ve been entirely misguided, my friend.
Today’s healthcare market has made it much harder to deliver quality care to patients that need it.
- PTs get overloaded with patients
- Causing patients to get less time with their PT
- On top of that, in-network practices tend to recommend 2-3 appointments per week for injuries and conditions that could be treated utilizing 1-2 treatments per week.
So, after all that, we get why you’d swear off physical therapy. But you know what they say, don’t hate the PT, hate the game. And because physical therapists hate the system just as much you, they're trying to swim upstream against these insurance companies.
Almost all the available evidence we have for musculoskeletal injuries and conditions now supports physical therapy treatment over medication, surgery, and injections.
So before you down another Advil in an attempt to suppress that pain in your neck, let’s reform our perception of PT and see how that can heal the pain.
2. ISN'T PHYSICAL THERAPY JUST EXERCISE?
Yeah, obviously, PTs incorporate exercise into the treatment plan for most injuries. The benefits physical activity offers is a fact no one is debating.
But that’s only part of it. PT's main role is far from just leading patients through a few passive exercises or providing a generic home program.
While each patient presents a unique set of needs, a PT has the skill set to provide a variety of treatment techniques which include––
- Joint manipulation
- Joint mobilization
- Trigger point dry needling
- Instrument-assisted soft tissue massage
- Muscle energy techniques
- Active muscle release techniques
- Corrective exercise targeting strength, neuromuscular reeducation, flexibility, or muscle recruitment deficits.
And if you don’t know what one or all the things on that list are, that’s where you can benefit from a knowledgeable PT who knows how to treat your pain a lot better (and more long term) than that Advil or exercise routine you found on Google could.
When you pull back the curtain, it’s clear that PTs can offer a much more complete and useful treatment package than just exercise. If your goals are to achieve lasting results, PT provides the perfect blend of hands-on treatment and specific exercise.
3. CAN'T ANYONE BE A PHYSICAL THERAPIST?
The line between Physical Therapists and other professionals like personal trainers and massage therapists is often blurred.
And yes, there are some small areas of overlap, but there is a significant difference in qualifications and scope of practice, okay?
Both disciplines are valuable services and can be utilized as a part of the healthcare team at different stages within the rehabilitation process, but an important distinction here is that these professions aren’t qualified to evaluate, diagnose, or provide treatment for an injury.
PTs, on the other hand, are healthcare providers trained to minimize pain, rehabilitate an injury, identify faulty movement patterns, and mitigate disabilities through a variety of different treatment techniques. PTs have the education and training to diagnose an injury and then determine an appropriate evidence-based treatment plan relative to what the patient’s functional or movement goals may be.
In case you needed more convincing (it’s cool, we respect a skeptical soul), take a look the required qualifications of each profession for comparison—
Personal trainers: Need a high school diploma and complete the AED/CPR certification. Most trainers opt to become specialized in a specific type of training and get extra certifications.
Massage therapists: Must complete a 500-hour training program and pass a licensure exam. 12 hours of continuing education is required every two years to maintain the license.
Physical Therapists: Must obtain a doctorate in physical therapy, which typically takes three years of graduate study beyond the prerequisite four-year bachelor’s degree. All states mandate licensing for the profession, which requires passing the National Physical Therapy Exam. Continuing education is necessary to maintain the credential. Physical Therapists can also go on to do full-time or part-time residency and fellowship programs in orthopedics, pediatrics, or neurology as well as get additional board-certified credentials or certifications through extra coursework.
4. I'VE HEARD PHYSICAL THERAPY WILL HURT?
Physical therapy has the reputation that treatment is not only going to hurt but that it’s supposed to hurt.
Some even joke that PT stands for “Pain and Torture specialist” rather than "physical therapist." Funny, but false. And honestly, kinda sad.
Physical therapy is not supposed to hurt. The ultimate goal of PT is to decrease pain, improve function, and return individuals to the things that they love to do. If that’s torture, you’d never get a secret out of me!
Treatment plans will always meet patients where they are in the process and should never emphasize anything that makes symptoms significantly worse.
And yes, treatment can be a little uncomfortable at times when dealing with a painful injury. But a good PT will always request feedback throughout the process to modify as needed.
Because ultimately, if you’re in pain, don’t wait to seek help because you think it’s going to be painful and make things worse. Seek advice sooner rather than later and trust that physical therapy is not derived from some ancient form of torture passed down from generation to generation.
There is rarely a reason to delay conservative, and research shows that the sooner you begin treatment, the better chance you’ll have of recovering quickly and efficiently. That beats paying for expensive pills and suffering through surgery. Just saying.
As long as you can get to the clinic safely, even if someone else has to drive you, physical therapy can likely do something to make you feel better on day one.
5. DON'T YOU HAVE TO BE IN PAIN TO RECEIVE PT?
Believe it or not—you don’t have to be in pain to receive physical therapy.
One of the most underrated areas of physical therapy is in the form of injury prevention. The expertise of human movement patterns lends itself perfectly to injury prevention and improving performance.
Pinpointing issues in movement and function before they turn into severe conditions saves you time, money, and frustration. Win. Win. Win.
Think about it, how often are we sitting at a desk throughout the day without paying any attention to ergonomics or posture? Did you just correct your posture? Yeah, you were slumping weren’t you?
How many of you jump into an exercise class at the local gym when it’s finally time to get back in shape after months without working out?
In both these scenarios, and many more, there is a good chance that you’ve developed a faulty movement pattern due to prolonged static postures or repeated faulty movement patterns that increase your risk for future injury.
You may not be in pain at the moment, but addressing the issue now can pay off in the future.
I hope that reading this has helped dispel any misconceptions you’ve had about physical therapy and encouraged you to think about physical therapy first when you start dealing with musculoskeletal pain.
For those that need help now and live inside the loop in Houston, please email me at email@example.com or set up a free phone consultation and I’d be happy to discuss the specific symptoms you are dealing with. We also offer 20+ minute hands-on evaluations for just $20 and will meet you at your home, place of business, or gym to make it extremely convenient.