Are you experiencing pain and looking to take an active role in your recovery? Are you hoping to avoid surgery or prolonged use of potentially-addictive medications? If any of these situations apply to you, you may want to give physical therapy (PT) a try. Want to learn more about PT and how it can help you? Here are answers to some common questions from Rich Green, physical therapist and Director of Physical and Hand Therapy at DMOS Orthopaedic Center.
How do I know if I should try physical therapy?
If you’ve just started running or maybe have been working in your garden for the first time this season, it’s common to experience mild pain or discomfort and it’s generally safe to push through it, Green said. However, if the pain is severe or doesn’t subside after a week or so, you may want to consult a physical therapist.
“Some people think physical therapy is only for older people or only for those recovering from surgery or a major injury,” Green said. “But people of all ages and abilities can benefit from physical therapy. Physical therapy can be helpful and empowering to help almost anyone recover from pain or injuries. In addition to learning how to avoid re-injuring themselves in the future.”
Do I need a referral from my doctor?
In Iowa, you don’t need a referral or prescription from a doctor to access a physical therapist. Medical doctors will often refer patients to see a physical therapist. However, the referral isn’t required by law to enable you to see a physical therapist. You should consult your health insurance plan in case there are referral requirements before you can receive coverage for PT.
What will my initial physical therapy appointment be like?
Your physical therapist will interview you and perform a physical exam. He or she will then discuss with you what is causing your pain, whether PT is an appropriate treatment for your condition, how long you should expect treatment to take, and how much it will cost, Green said. If your therapist determines PT could be beneficial for you, he or she will likely do some hands-on manual therapy and also prescribe some exercises to help stretch or strengthen your problem area.
What are some of the benefits of physical therapy?
A couple of the benefits of PT include:
Learn what’s causing your pain and how to avoid pain in the future.
“We can help patients identify the source of their pain,” Green said. “Perhaps they have a weak muscle group that’s causing them to alter their walking or running stride, they’re sitting too long at the computer without breaks or they have a misconception about the nature of their condition.Once we identify the issues, we empower the patient with stretching, strengthening, and education to help them avoid pain in the future. When patients no longer have a fear of pain, it can really contribute to their quality of life, ability to enjoy their work and play, and their long-term independence.”
Avoid unnecessary surgery, opioid medications, and other aggressive treatments.
Opioid painkillers and surgery are appropriate and necessary treatments for some conditions. But for many conditions, PT can take the place of these more aggressive treatment methods.“If a physician determines surgery isn’t necessary for a given patient, they’ll often refer them to physical therapy and we’ll collaborate on an appropriate treatment regimen,” Green said. “Studies are showing that PT can help avoid prolonged use of opioid painkillers. While medications such as these have their place simple activities such as movement, meditation and education have proven to be quite effective in limiting discomfort. We’re always glad when we can help patients recover using a more natural alternative.”
Shorten recovery times.
Even when surgery or prescription painkillers are necessary, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. After surgery, physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles affected by surgery. This will get you back to your normal routine more quickly, Green said.“Whether or not you need surgery, your doctor may prescribe opioid painkillers short-term to calm tense muscles. These will help get you through the worst of the pain,” Green said. “Physical therapy helps ease the pain more quickly so you can stop using the medication as soon as possible.”