14 Myths About Physical Therapy: Busted!

Ronald J. Bredow, PT Co-founder and CEO Oct29th 2020

Physical therapy is a great way to help people achieve their recovery, health, or fitness goals.  Not sure about physical therapy?  That’s why we compiled a list of the 14 myths about physical therapy.

1: Physical Therapy is Only for Injuries and Accidents

This is one of the most common myths about physical therapy.  There is a lot more to physical therapy than just stretching or strengthening weak muscles after an injury or accident.  Physical therapy can help with all kinds of conditions including pain management and musculoskeletal conditions, as well as more specific conditions including chronic headaches, lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and frozen shoulder.

2: Physical Therapy is Painful

Although you might experience minimal pain or discomfort at the beginning of your treatment, a main goal of physical therapy is to minimize pain and discomfort.  A good physical therapist will work within your pain threshold to help you heal while restoring function and movement.  There may be slight pain here and there, but the outcome will be worth it.  However, if at any time you experience more than slight discomfort, discuss with your physical therapist to see if your treatment plan needs adjustment.

3: I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist

The majority of people still think a prescription or referral from a doctor is necessary to receive physical therapy services.  Although some states still have restrictions around treatment, New York has direct access, so patients can seek physical therapy treatment without a doctor’s prescription or referral.

4: All Physical Therapy Can Be Done at Home

While you may receive in-home exercises to do in addition to your in-office treatment, not all physical therapy can be done at home.  Your physical therapist is there to create a custom treatment plan to resolve your underlying issues, as well as guiding and instructing you on using proper form when doing exercises.  You will often receive services as part of your in-office treatment that you will not receive at home, including stimulation and massage of affected muscles, mobilizations, and manipulation.  Every patient still benefits from the expert care and in-office services of a licensed physical therapist.

5: Surgery is the Only Option

Of course, for some individuals, surgery might be necessary.  However, in many instances, physical therapy has been shown to be as effective as surgery in treating a number of conditions including meniscal tears, knee osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, or rotator cuff tears to name a few.  Even if surgery does end up being necessary, physical therapy can help improve your recovery through pre- and post-operative treatment.

6: Any Health Care Professional Can Perform Physical Therapy

A great percentage of consumers still believe any health care professional can administer physical therapy.  This is not the case.  Physical therapy can only be performed by a licensed professional.  Physical therapists may also pursue certifications in specialty areas or methods such as the Mackenzie Method, Orthopedics, Women’s Health, Sports, and more.

7: Physical Therapy Isn’t Covered by Insurance

Most insurance policies cover physical therapy in some form.  In fact, you can check out our website for a list of insurances we accept.  Beyond insurance coverage, physical therapy is proven to reduce other health care costs by preventing individuals from needing prescription drugs, surgery, or imaging scans.  Physical therapy can also help individuals address conditions before they become permanent or avoid falls, thereby lower costs in those ways.

8: All Physical Therapists are the Same

Physical therapists come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and from different backgrounds including continued education, training, and personal experiences.  Although therapists gain similar knowledge and tools through their education, the career path they decide to take will ultimately influence the tools and treatment philosophies they use.

So how do you find a physical therapist who is right for you?  Ask friends and family for recommendations, seek a referral from your doctor, look at internet reviews.  Also, ask the right questions of the physical therapist or the physical therapy clinic: What can I expect during my first session?  How long will be sessions be?  How many times a week and for how long should I go to physical therapy before I can expect to see improvement?

Find a therapist that you click with, that you trust, and that understand your treatment goals since you will be spending a lot of time together.

9: Physical Therapists “Fix” People

Although a physical therapist’s job is to play an active role in your recovery, there is no button they can push to instantly resolve the issues that brought you to physical therapy.  It is a team effort that requires an active, not passive, approach.  Patients should expect to do a little bit of work in order to get positive and lasting results.

Your physical therapist can only accomplish so much during the time you are together during the week.  However, they will give you the exercises, education, and guidance to continue treatment at home in between treatments as well as upon discharge, so that you get the best outcome possible.

10: Physical Therapy is Just Exercise-Based

The most effective treatment plan for a variety of musculoskeletal issues is a combination of manual therapy, modalities, patient education, AND exercise.  No one should expect a full recovery with just exercise alone.  Every plan of care is different and with be customized to a patient’s individual needs and goals.  But, be honest with your physical therapist and let them know if something about your treatment is not working for you or helping you achieve your goals – they are there to help you!

11: Your PT Will Tell You to Stop Doing What You Love

Your physical therapist’s number one goal is just the opposite of this – they want to get you back to doing what you love ASAP!  Delaying treatment or denying that you need treatment may actually hurt you in the long run and will prevent you from getting back to the activities you love.  While it may be frustrating to reduce or eliminate the activities you love, it is only temporary in an effort to help you get back to it full force.

12: Once You’re Discharged, You’re Done

Physical therapy is just the beginning.  Physical therapists don’t just “fix” people, but rather they give patients the tools and education they need to accomplish their health and wellness goals.  It is up to the patient to follow their discharge instructions in order to maintain results.

13: Physical Therapy is Expensive

Compared to surgery and other potential treatments, physical therapy is a bargain!  And remember, it is typically covered in some way by insurance.  In addition, physical therapy can sometimes help patients avoid more costly treatment options, and may prevent subsequent health issues down the line.

14: Physical Therapy is the Same as Massage

As part of a patient’s treatment, physical therapists may perform manual therapy techniques including kneading painful areas of the body.  While this may seem similar to a muscle massage you may receive from a massage therapist, this technique provides more tailored care based on the biomechanics of the human body.

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