Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran to the world of physical therapy, it still amazes me the amount of people that don’t really know and understand what “physical therapy” is and what a Physical Therapist does. We often get a loose comparison to an Occupational Therapist or mistaken for a Chiropractor. Each of these professions are different and unique, but work together to improve your well-being and act as guides for you to regain your life and function. We also get the “you make people do exercises, right?” and worst of all we get the patient coming in scared because they had a cousin’s second girlfriend tell them a horror story about how “awful” their physical therapy was for x,y and z.
A Physical Therapist is your guide in improving and/or returning to your life and to be able to function as a human being. We work as a partnership with the patient to help them achieve their goals while building a rapport, a trust and often a friendship. Whether your goal is to walk again after a stroke, throw your baseball after shoulder surgery, live life with less pain, or just being able to get down on the floor and up again to play with your kids or grand kids; your physical therapist will give you the tools needed to achieve these goals.
Physical therapy isn’t just about doing the exercises, we are masters at movement and all things associated. We teach your brain tricks to help with pain, educate you on ways to make your life easier, work hands on to make you feel better, teach you about pain and all its factors, and cry with you when you are able to reach that goal/do that thing that you haven’t done in 10 years. We are always assessing the way your body moves, the way your body compensates to avoid pain, your body language and facial expressions. As you are telling us your issues and limitations, we are running a list of a hundred possible things in our heads and planning possible treatments to help you reach your goals and make your life better. We need to plan your sessions for the good days and adjust on the fly for your bad ones. When you go home and think about your pain and limitations, so does your physical therapist. They bring you home with them every day, brainstorming ways to make your life better and what could make the next session more successful for you.
Why choose physical therapy?
There have been several studies that have supported physical therapy as an effective intervention, especially for those with chronic pain. A recent study reviewed using physical therapy as an initial intervention (referred by your primary care physician) for people with chronic low back pain. It showed initial treatment costs to be 50% lower than an advanced imaging referral, as well as 72% fewer costs overall within the first year.. Both the cost and negative/misleading information that comes with obtaining medical imaging can be a burden to patients. There are other studies that show physical therapy just as effective, if not more effective, then certain types of surgeries. Physical therapy has been proven in studies to be safe, even for patients in intensive care units. Physical therapy also does not have the side effects and risks like pain medications, other types of medications for preventive diseases, surgeries, and steroid treatments. There is no fine print at the bottom of our exercise prescriptions.
Physical therapy has been shown to be so effective that the CDC has even issued guidelines that recommend physical therapy to treat chronic pain as opposed to long-term or high-dose use of addictive prescription painkillers/other prescription drugs. Research shows that patients who choose physical therapy over surgery, return to work 2–4 times sooner t and 75% of studies report a faster return to all other pre-injury activities. Surgery has several risks and often unexpected costs by the patient eager to return to their pre-injury lifestyle. There are times when surgery is the right and only option for the patient, but this is when the physician, surgeon, physical therapist, AND the patient work together to decide.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and be your own advocate, making educated and informed decisions about YOUR health.