FAQ

General Questions

General Questions about Physical Therapy and how to choose a therapist

Why is physical therapy a good choice?

More than half of all Americans are suffering from pain. Whether it is a recent episode or chronic, an ABC News/Stanford study revealed that pain in America is a serious problem. However, many do not even know that physical therapists are well equipped to not only treat pain but also its source.

Physical therapists are experts at treating movement and neuro-musculoskeletal disorders. Pain often accompanies a movement disorder, and physical therapists can help correct the disorder and relieve the pain.

What do physical therapists do?

You have probably heard of the profession of physical therapy. Maybe you have had a conversation with a friend about how physical therapy helped get rid of his or her back pain, or you might know someone who needed physical therapy after an injury. You might even have been treated by a physical therapist yourself. But have you ever wondered about physical therapists—who they are and what they do? Many people are familiar with physical therapists' work helping patients with orthopedic problems, such as low back pain or knee surgeries, to reduce pain and regain function. Others may be aware of the treatment that physical therapists provide to assist patients recovering from a stroke (e.g., assisting them with recovering use of their limbs and walking again).

The ability to maintain an upright posture and to move your arms and legs to perform all sorts of tasks and activities is an important component of your health. Most of us can learn to live with the various medical conditions that we may develop, but only if we are able to continue at our jobs, take care of our families, and enjoy important occasions with family and friends. All of these activities require the ability to move without difficulty or pain.

Because physical therapists are experts in movement and function, they do not confine their talents to treating people who are ill. A large part of a physical therapist's program is directed at preventing injury, loss of movement, and even surgery. Physical therapists work as consultants in industrial settings to improve the design of the workplace and reduce the risk of workers overusing certain muscles or developing low back pain. They also provide services to athletes at all levels to screen for potential problems and institute preventive exercise programs. With the boom in the golf and fitness industries, a number of physical therapists are engaged in consulting with recreational golfers and fitness clubs to develop workouts that are safe and effective, especially for people who already know that they have a problem with their joints or their backs.

The cornerstones of physical therapy treatment are therapeutic exercise and functional training. In addition to "hands-on" care, physical therapists also educate patients to take care of themselves and to perform certain exercises on their own. Depending on the particular needs of a patient, physical therapists may also "mobilize" a joint (that is, perform certain types of movements at the end of your range of motion) or massage a muscle to promote proper movement and function. Physical therapists also use methods such as ultrasound (which uses high frequency waves to produce heat), hot packs, and ice. Although other kinds of practitioners will offer some of these treatments as "physical therapy," it's important for you to know that physical therapy can only be provided by qualified physical therapists or by physical therapist assistants, who must complete a 2-year education program and who work only under the direction and supervision of physical therapists.

Most forms of physical therapy treatment are covered by your insurance, but the coverage will vary with each plan. Most states do not legally require patients to see their physicians before seeing a physical therapist. Most of the time all you have to do is ask your doctor if physical therapy is right for you.

Reference: APTA

Why are People referred to physical therapy?

You and others may be referred to physical therapy because of a movement dysfunction associated with pain. Your difficulty with moving part(s) of your body (like bending at the low back or difficulty sleeping on your shoulder, etc.) very likely results in limitations with your daily activities (e.g. difficulty getting out of a chair, an inability to play sports, or trouble with walking, etc.). Physical therapists treat these movement dysfunctions and their associated pains and restore your body's ability to move in a normal manner.

Is physical therapy painful?

For many patients, one of the primary objectives is pain relief. This is frequently accomplished with hands-on techniques, modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and/or heat or cold therapy. Movement often provides pain relief as well. Your physical therapist will provide you with the appropriate exercises not only for pain relief but to recover range of motion, strength, and endurance.

How do I choose a physical therapy clinic?

  • Do they have a service that can address your problem?
  • Do they take your insurance or are they willing to work with you if they are not a preferred provider?
  • They should be conveniently located. Since sitting and driving often aggravate orthopedic problems, there should be a very good reason for you to drive a long distance for rehabilitation.
  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Can they provide satisfaction survey results?
  • The therapist should provide the treatment.
  • Can you briefly interview the therapist before the first visit?
  • Ask your family and friends who they would recommend.

What will I have to do after physical therapy?

Some patients will need to continue with home exercises. Some may choose to continue with a gym exercise program. Others will complete their rehabilitation and return to normal daily activities. It is important that you communicate your goals to your therapist, so he/she can develop a custom program for you.

What happens if my problem or pain returns?

Flare ups are not uncommon. If you have a flare up (exacerbation), give us a call. We may suggest you come back to see us, return to your doctor, or simply modify your daily activities or exercise routine.

Can my physical therapist provide me with a diagnosis?

In most states, physical therapists cannot make a medical diagnosis. This is something that your medical doctor will provide for you.

Physical therapists are important members of your medical team. At this point in time, physicians are typically the health care providers that will provide you with a medical diagnosis.

Can I go to any physical therapy clinic?

In most cases, you have the right to choose any physical therapy clinic. Our practice is a provider for many different insurance plans. The best thing to do is give us a call and we will attempt to answer all of your questions.

Can I go directly to my physical therapist?

Forty-three states have some form of direct access. Some state physical therapy practice acts require a diagnosis before a patient can see a therapist (this is the case in California, Michigan, and Colorado to name a few). Other states allow patients to go directly to physical therapists. In most cases, if you are not making significant improvement within 30 days, the therapist will refer you to/back to your physician.

Will I get a massage at physical therapy?

Massage may be part of your treatment. Rehabilitation specialists are trained in a variety of techniques that may help with your recovery. Deep tissue techniques may be part of the rehabilitative process. Massage is used for three reasons typically - to facilitate venous return from a swollen area, to relax a tight muscle, or to relieve pain. Contrary to common thought, massage does not increase circulation.

Why should I choose a private physical therapist?

Who is better to see, a PT that works for a physician or a PT that owns a private practice? We leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions but here are some facts. The studies indicate there were more treatments (visits per patient were 39% to 45% higher in physician owned clinics) and the cost was greater for those patients that attended a physician owned physical therapy practice (both gross and net revenue per patient were 30% to 40% higher) 1.

Another study indicated that licensed and non-licensed therapy providers spent less time with each patient in physician owned clinics and physical therapy assistants were substituted for physical 2

Another older study concluded that "Therapists who had treated patients through direct access were significantly more likely to believe that direct access had benefited them professionally and benefited their patients than were therapists who had not practiced through direct access."3

We believe that we can provide you with the highest quality of care available and do it in a cost-effective manner. You will work closely with your physical therapist and in most instances, your case will be managed by the same physical therapist from the beginning to the end of your experience with us.

1 Mitchell, J., Scott, E., Physician Ownership of Physical Therapy Services: Effects on Charges, Utilization, Profits, and Service Characteristics, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1992.

2 "Joint Ventures Among Health Care Providers in Florida," State of Florida Health Care Cost Containment Board, 1991.

3 Domholdt E, Durchholz AG. Direct access use by experienced therapists in states with direct access. Phys Ther. 1992 Aug;72(8):569-74.