The (Many) Benefits of Seeing a Physical Therapist
Posted December 8, 2021
Seeing your physical therapist first when you’ve got musculoskeletal pain is a no-brainer, for a multitude of reasons.
You get better faster.
We know we’re stating the obvious – the sooner you get started, the sooner you get better – but we’ve got some research to back this one up.
A 2015 Health Services Research study compared the routes between two patients: one saw their doctor first and one saw their PT first. The findings are eye-opening. To paraphrase it for you, Patient A and Patient B went to their doctor on the same day. Patient A was referred straight to physical therapy, and was able to book an appointment two days later. Patient B was sent to get an MRI, then see a specialist. Given current wait times for imaging and to see a specialist, Patient B was not seen again until three weeks later, when they were referred to physical therapy by their specialist.
Unfortunately, in addition to the delays in getting started with physical therapy, Patient B wasted a lot of time attending unnecessary visits. Today, you don’t even need a referral for physical therapy in most states, meaning you can reach out directly and we can get you scheduled for an appointment within 24-48 hours.
In many cases, you can avoid surgery and opioids.
Physical therapy has been found to be as effective as surgery for some conditions, including meniscal tears, knee osteoarthritis, and lumbar spinal stenosis. Sound a little far-fetched? It shouldn’t – our bodies are designed to heal themselves! And in the occurrences just mentioned, PT may be able to help you stay off the operating table entirely. Plus, there’s the added benefit of not having to worry about the side effects, risk of infection, etc. associated with surgery.
Note: if you are unable to avoid surgery, pre- and post-surgical physical therapy are integral to getting your desired outcome. Being in good physical condition means you’re likely to recover more quickly and, sometimes, with better results!
For those in pain, opioids may seem like a quick fix, or even the only option, but the side effects are awfully risky. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees. In 2016, they released guidelines that recommend non-drug approaches such as physical therapy over long-term or high-dose use of addictive prescription painkillers.
And, The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that patients who were sent to a physical therapy consult were 35% less likely to be prescribed opioids, even if they didn’t keep up with physical therapy after the initial evaluation. Great news, since opioids are highly addictive and don’t treat pain – they only mask it. Physical therapy gets to the root of your pain and aims to resolve it entirely, so you can get back to the things that are important to you.
It costs less.
We could go on endlessly with this one, but we’ll leave you with a couple of our favorite pieces of research:
- Remember the Patient A + Patient B we mentioned above? In addition to the three weeks Patient B had to wait to get started with care, they spent A LOT more money. Over the course of a year, Patient A spent $1,871 in low back pain related costs. Patient B spent $6,664. That’s a $4,793 difference. The study also shows the increased use of other services, like additional diagnostic imaging and medication, when an MRI is done prior to physical therapy.
- According to research, those suffering from low back pain who receive physical therapy immediately after the pain begins and adhere to their treatment plan spend $3,000 a year in associated healthcare costs. Those who delay receiving physical therapy and do not adhere to their treatment plan spend $6,000 per year for all kinds of healthcare, including the surgeries, injections, imaging, and opioids mentioned above.
Insurance companies are starting to take note, too. Humana has lifted their prior authorization requirement for outpatient physical therapy and Medicare is no longer capping how much physical, occupational, or speech therapy beneficiaries are eligible for, as long as their doctor confirms the need for therapy.
Eye opening, right?! But PT isn’t just about musculoskeletal pain. Broadly, reducing pain and improving mobility is what we do… but that’s just part – there is a lot more to it than that!
Other Ways PT Can Help
Help You Recover from a Stroke
Strokes are the leading cause of long-term disability, almost always resulting in varying degrees of lost mobility and movement. Physical therapy is crucial to recovery – first to keep muscles toned and stimulated (before voluntary movement returns) and second to relearn everyday skills and regain strength.
Improve Your Balance and Prevent Falls
According to the CDC, more than one third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States. Your physical therapist can design an individualized program that focuses on strengthening specific muscle groups to help improve your standing and walking balance.
Manage Diabetes and Vascular Conditions
Some physical complications related to diabetes include weakness, loss of endurance, obesity, shortness of breath, and balance problems. Physical therapists can help people with diabetes build or maintain endurance, improve balance, and regain energy. Remaining active and exercising are also effective ways to lower high-blood sugar levels.
Physical therapy is also recommended for a number of other vascular conditions, like lymphedema, which occurs when tissue swells due to removed or damaged lymph nodes. Hands-on physical therapy can mobilize and remove fluid from the affected areas, and strength training will help improve lymph drainage.
Manage Heart and Lung Disease
Physical therapy can help with a number of cardiovascular and pulmonary diagnoses, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, bronchitis, and pulmonary hypertension. Your physical therapist can teach more effective breathing techniques designed to improve aerobic capacity and cardiopulmonary function, leading to less shortness of breath.
Recuperate from or Stop a Sports Injury
Physical therapy can help you recover from (or altogether avoid!) a number of athletic-related aches, pains, sprains, strains, and concussions. But PT can also help you improve performance and get a leg up on the competition! We could go on and on about this one. In fact, we already have. Check out a recent blog post about athletic injuries for more information!