October is National Physical Therapy month, a time when physical therapists like Dr. Patrick Donovan of Denver not only celebrate their profession, but also educate others about the role physical therapy plays in improving the health and vitality of their patients … and of health care in general.
While a physical therapist’s roles are both broad and diverse, Dr. Donovan says several misconceptions still exist about what physical therapy is, what it isn’t, and the various ways it can help people improve the health and lives of people at all stages in life.
“When a lot of people think about physical therapy, they think rehabilitation. But that’s just part of what we do,” said Dr. Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver. “Physical therapists can improve the lives of people of all ages dealing with several common ailments, and even people with no ailments at all.”
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists (PTs) are highly educated and licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. Sure, this includes those who’ve suffered musculoskeletal injuries, Dr. Donovan says, but it’s much more than that.
Here are six common misconceptions about physical therapy:
1. I need to be injured to see a physical therapist. Rehabilitation following an injury or surgery is just a portion of what physical therapists may provide. It’s common for a PT to treat other common ailments like balance and vestibular issues, headaches, pelvic pain, chronic pain, incontinence, and basic joint and muscle discomfort. They also work with clients to prevent injuries and improve athletic performance.
2. It’s going to hurt. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy has no place in physical therapy. In fact, PTs are trained to work within one’s pain threshold to ensure her or his musculoskeletal gains are safe and incremental.
3. Surgery/medication are better options. Both have a place as medical treatments, but multiple studies have shown that physical therapy is more effective and safer than options like subscription painkillers, as well as common surgeries for lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disk disease, and even meniscus tears.
4. Physical therapy is expensive. Physical therapy is a bargain when compared with surgery. But more than that, studies have shown that for the treatment of one of the most common ailments, non-specific back pain, patients can save up to 60 percent on their medical bills if they first visit a physical therapist.
5. Any health care provider can offer physical therapy. This is simply not true, though the APTA estimates 37 percent of all consumers believe it to be the case. The fact is only licensed physical therapists have received the post-graduate education and training necessary to provide physical therapy services.
6. I can’t see a PT without a prescription or referral. According to the APTA, this myth is shared by 70 percent of all health care consumers. However, all 50 states allow patients to be evaluated by a PT without a physician referral, with only three states (Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama) limiting this right to certain patient populations.
To learn more about how physical therapy can benefit a particular ailment, condition or wellness goal – or for an injury, pain or movement evaluation – contact the physical therapy team at Heather Lane Physical Therapy.