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  • Colbie Jorgensen DPT

5 Myths about Physical Therapy

Myth #1. Physical therapy is only for those with serious injuries or surgeries.

In general, I think a lot of people aren’t really sure what physical therapists do. You might have talked with a friend that has been to a physical therapist. Maybe you have seen or heard of athletes going to a physical therapist after an injury but if you have never been to a physical therapist you may not really know the kinds of things that we can do. I believe the term physical therapy is often misused. Physical therapy is not really something you do, it’s a profession. You go to a physical therapist and they prescribe treatment just like a doctor prescribes medication. I think it can get confusing because like doctors there are so many different kinds of physical therapy. Just like there are specialist medical doctors there are specialists in physical therapy. There are PT’s that treat the serious injuries and surgeries, spinal cord and other neurologic injuries, women’s health, athletes and more. Here are some things to think about when considering PT.

· Physical Therapists are trained to screen for more serious conditions and can refer to the right provider if necessary

· Physical therapists are able to help with even small aches and pains, and minor injuries.

· Physical therapists can even help you improve your performance at work, in sport, or simply help you improve your quality of life.

· Go see a physical therapist if you are having any pain, not moving as well as you need to, or want to improve your performance.

Myth #2. Going to physical therapy is an unpleasant experience and usually painful

The one thing I hear all the time is people jokingly say I am going the physical terrorist, or that we like to torture people you get the idea. There is this notion out there that when you go to physical therapy you are going to be in more pain than when you left. It’s not something most people look forward to. I am not entirely sure where this comes from. Maybe there are some therapists out there that are doing this but for the most part it is not true. Physical therapy should not be a painful experience. Quite the opposite actually. You should feel better after a physical therapy session. You should have less pain, more movement, and more confidence in your body after a visit to your PT. There is really no evidence that pushing people through pain has a lot of benefits. I find that it often slows progress down. If you are dreading your PT visits don’t give up just seek out another PT, we are not all physical terrorists.

Myth #3. You need a referral from a doctor to see a physical therapist.

Here is another one that I don’t think most people realize. In most cases you do not need a referral from an MD to see a physical therapist. Every state has different laws regarding this, but every state has some form of what is called direct access. Here in Oregon there is full direct access which means that legally you can see a physical therapist anytime without a referral. The real confusion comes when you start dealing with insurance companies. Most of them are starting to change but there are still a few that will require a referral from your doctor. Here is what I always suggest to people. If you are having some sort of ache or pain go, see your physical therapist first. They will usually be able to call your doctor and ask for a referral if you need one. Sometimes your doctor will ask you to come in if they haven’t seen you for a while but most of the time, they are happy to write a referral for PT.

Myth #4 It is always better to use your in-network insurance when going to physical therapy.

This one can be a bit complicated but let me try to explain it without too much detail. It is not always better or cheaper to use your health insurance. Many people have a high deductible and rarely reach it each year. Often when you go to PT especially at a hospital system the prices that they charge the insurance company are actually a lot higher than if you paid out of pocket for the visit. Here is an example let’s say you go to an in-network PT clinic and do 12 visits and they bill your insurance company $200 each time. If you haven’t met your deductible you might get a surprise bill in the mail for $2400 3 months later. The problem is you don’t know what the bill is going to be it could be lower or higher based on what the rate that clinic has negotiated with the insurance company. I have seen them as high as $450 for one visit. Now let’s say you go to an out of network physical therapist and do 8 visits because they are able to spend more time and energy focusing on you and you get better in less visits. They charge $150 a visit and even give you a discount if you pay up front for a package of visits. You now have a known bill that is $1100 dollars, you spent less of your precious time going to appointments, and you ended up with the same result. There is always more to it than this, but which one would you choose?

Myth #5. All they do is put me on a hot pack, make me ride a bike, and do a few exercises that I could just do at home.

Sometimes I think it is hard for people to see the value in physical therapy because of this myth. Unfortunately, I think there is some truth to this myth and that is why it is out there. Because of the poor reimbursement from insurance companies physical therapists are forced to see 2-3 people at a time and that’s when things start to fall through the cracks and people get put on hot packs, warm up on bikes for 20 min, and do the same exercises over and over again. I would not find that valuable.

This is not always true though you can find a lot of great physical therapists out there that really have the time to focus on you and individualize your treatment.

Physical therapists are trained to find the root cause of your pain. This is done through a thorough evidence-based examination of your symptoms, movement, and function. This is what really sets us apart from personal trainers, massage therapists, and other similar providers. This is where the value is. I have heard this story a few times that helps with the point. There was this really expensive ship that was nearly ready to be launched but something was not working right, and the workers could not figure it out. They called in someone that was supposed to be an expert on fixing these kinds of problems. He came in and did his inspection of the ship for a while. He then grabbed a hammer out of his toolbox and simply tapped the ship in a few spots. When he gave the foreman his bill for $10,000 dollars he argued and said that all he did was tap a few spots with his hammer that is not worth $10,000 dollars. The man simply said it’s not the tapping with the hammer that’s worth $10,000 it is knowing where to tap.

Physical therapists know where to tap when it comes to musculoskeletal problems.

Beyond this Physical therapist often have a lot of tools in their toolbox that can help you.

· Joint manipulation

· Massage

· Pain science education

· Cupping

· Advanced training in exercise prescription

· Sport specific training

· Coaching