You may have been prescribed physical therapy in the past to overcome the effects of an injury or illness. But you may not be familiar with everything that physical therapists offer — they can play an active role in diagnosis, too.
You may be accustomed to a system where your doctor diagnoses you with an injury, then prescribes physical therapy for that injury or impairment. However, that’s not the only way you can access a physical therapist.
Read on as we answer some commonly asked questions about physical therapy.
Q: What is physical therapy?
A: Physical therapy is the treatment of a medical condition, injury, or impairment on a physical level. It may involve techniques and tools like massage, specific exercises, or hot and cold therapy, among others.
When you visit a physical therapist, he or she will examine you and develop an individualized plan to help you mitigate pain and regain function. Physical therapists may also put together a plan for patients at risk of losing mobility or other function, helping them maintain abilities for as long as possible.
Q: How can I access physical therapy?
A: You might be surprised to learn that you don’t need a doctor’s prescription or even a diagnosis to visit a physical therapist. In fact, physical therapy can be a way to reduce your costs and still get the care you need.
“In Tennessee and many other states, you are allowed to use physical therapy as a primary access point to health care, not requiring a visit to your doctor first,” says LeAnn F. Childress, PT, ATC, director of Sports Plus Rehab. “This can help you save both time and money.”
How, you might wonder? Well, it essentially cuts out the middleman, so to speak.
When you visit your doctor, he or she is likely to recommend testing and refer you to other specialists, before perhaps landing on physical therapy as a treatment method. If you visit a physical therapist first, the therapist can take an indepth look at what could potentially be causing you pain and loss of function.
“For example, say you’ve been having some arm pain and then it starts going numb,” Childress says. “Most people will make an appointment with their primary care doctor, and then they will start you on meds and send you to a neurological doctor to take care of the numbness. There will be an X-ray, a copay, and an office visit, which all add up in costs.”
Compare that with a visit to the physical therapist:
“A physical therapist in that scenario will look at your range of motion, your strength, your posture, and your activities,” Childress says. “We could adjust your desk space, your activities, and give you positioning or strengthening exercises to see if we can find the origin of the pain. Once the symptoms have resolved, then we teach you how to keep yourself in line and not allow the pain and numbness to return.”
Q: Will the physical therapist work with my doctor?
A: Yes! That’s the second part of this equation. Unlike under the traditional model where you’d see a doctor first and then a physical therapist, in this model, you see the physical therapist first, who then consults with your doctor.
But there is still interaction between the physical therapist and a patient’s doctor.
“Consider the scenario we described above,” Childress says. “If we can’t find a way to turn off the pain and numbness—can’t find the origin of the pain—then we would call your primary care physician and update him or her on what we found. Through discussion, a course of treatment can be planned. Though your physician will still probably want to see you, a good plan can be established more quickly than if we had not already performed a physical therapy evaluation.”
This flip of the traditional process has had a positive impact in Tennessee already.
“Direct access to physical therapy has been a game changer,” Childress says. “We have been able to help countless individuals with their pain and get them back to work quicker than the traditional method. We have been able to help individuals learn how to turn off their symptoms and continue to function. We can be the solution for you and save you time and money in the meantime!”
If you need access to physical therapy services, Sports Plus Rehab can help! We offer care in 14 locations spread across west Tennessee. If you live outside West Tennessee, you can find a physical therapist here.