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Where to Go First When Something Hurts

If you’re experiencing musculoskeletal pain, it can be confusing trying to figure out where to go first. Primary care physician? Physical therapist? Specialist? Urgent care? Let’s break it down.

First off, what exactly is musculoskeletal pain, and how do I know when I need to see someone for it?

Musculoskeletal pain is pain that affects your bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, or tendons. And there are a lot of variations. It may be limited to one area of your body, or it could be present in your entire body. Sometimes, perhaps as the result of a recent injury, the pain can be sudden and severe (acute) or, in other cases, it can be long-lasting (chronic.)

If that pain interferes with your mobility and function or prevents you from working, enjoying your favorite activities, or participating in your daily life, it’s time to see someone.

Got it. So where should I go if I’m in musculoskeletal pain?

Your physical therapist. Here’s why:

  1. Your physical therapist can diagnose musculoskeletal injuries with the same amount of accuracy as an orthopaedic surgeon. In the United States Army, patients with musculoskeletal issues are frequently seen first by physical therapists. So, researchers wanted to test if there was any difference in their diagnostic accuracy vs. orthopaedic surgeons, and published their results in the most prestigious journal in orthopedic physical therapy, Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. The results? Clinical diagnostic accuracy by physical therapists and orthopaedic surgeons on patients with musculoskeletal injuries is not statistically different. And, both providers had significantly greater accuracy (double!!!) than that of nonorthopaedic providers.
  2. It gets you better, faster. If your first stop is your primary care physician, they will likely refer you to an orthopaedic specialist, who would then send you for physical therapy. Given that the average wait time to see a physician or specialist is 24 days, that process alone could set you back several months. Why wait when you could go straight to the source?
  3. It costs you less. The right physical therapy within 14 days of the onset of low back pain minimizes the average total episodic cost of care by 50%, because it reduces the need for additional healthcare services. These costs are saved by avoiding surgery, imaging, and prescription medication.

So, can I see a physical therapist without a physician’s referral or prescription?

Yes, you can! It’s called direct access. And, luckily, it saves you from having to jump through a lot of hoops. Our goal is to ensure that each of our patients receive the highest quality of care available, and quickly.

Cool. So how long will I need to see my physical therapist, and what happens when I’m there?

It depends on the underlying cause of your musculoskeletal pain. Your first visit, also known as your initial evaluation, will be about an hour long. During that time, your physical therapist will talk with you about your pain, your limitations, and your goals. They’ll also walk you through a few tests and take measurements to establish a baseline for where you’re starting.

Before you leave the initial evaluation, your physical therapist will take some time to educate you on what’s going on, how many visits you’ll likely need, and what you can expect from a treatment plan.

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Find a Physical Therapist today!

Progressive Physical Therapy

Granada Hills, CA Phone: (818) 996-1725

Peak Physical Therapy

Boise, Idaho Phone: (208) 587-1777

All Star Physical Therapy

Murrieta, CA Phone: (951) 304‑7273

Orthosport Physical Therapy

Culver City, CA Phone: (310) 837-9700

Physical Therapy Care

Fort Bend County, TX Phone:

Physical Therapy Specialists

Beverly Hills, CA Phone: (310) 273-7800

Precise Physical Therapy

Kansas City, KS Phone: (855) 745-0278

Manual Edge Physical Therapy

Colorado Springs, CO Phone: (719) 694-8342

TLC Rehab

The Villages, FL Phone:

Northwest Physical Therapy

Sedro-Wooley, WA Phone: (360) 428-2700

Shea Physical Therapy

Corpus Christi Phone: 361-992-1933

Advanced Physical Therapy

Wichita, KS Phone: (866) 412-5554

Strive Physical Therapy & Sports Rehabilitation

Moorestown, NJ Phone: (800) 903-4142

Elite Physical Therapy

Alexandria, LA Phone: 318-443-3111

Xcel Sports Medicine

Vandalia, OH Phone: 937-890-9235

Colorado in Motion

Fort Collins, CO Phone: (970) 475-8651


Calabasas, CA Phone: (800) 766-7876

Mountain River Physical Therapy

Parkersburg, WV Phone: (304) 865-6778

Preferred Physical Therapy

Kansas City, MO Phone: (866) 412-5554


Columbus, GA
Auburn, AL
Columbia, SC
Phone: (706) 322-7762

Evidence in Motion (EIM)

San Antonio TX Phone: 888-709-7096

Fit for Work

San Antonio, TX Phone: 877-348-4975

Rehab Therapy Works

Spring Hill, FL Phone: (352) 597-8996

Lake Centre for Rehab

The Villages, FL Phone: (352) 728-6636

Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy

Lexington, KY Phone: (859) 264-0512

Confluent Health

Louisville, KY Phone: (502) 442-7697

Tallahassee Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy

Tallahasee, FL Phone: (850) 877-8855


Louisville, KY & Evansville, IN Phone: (888) 591-8280

Physical Therapy Central

Oklahoma City, OK Phone: (866) 866-3893

El Paso Physical Therapy Services

El Paso, Texas Phone: (915) 581-9606

Baton Rouge Physical Therapy

Baton Rouge, LA Phone: (225) 206-5292


Fort Worth, TX Phone: 888-658-8483

Redbud Physical Therapy

Tulsa, OK Phone: (866) 866-3893

Capitol Physical Therapy

Madison, WI Phone: (608) 527-0602

BreakThrough Physical Therapy

Raleigh, NC Phone: (866) 922-0012

Proactive Physical Therapy Specialists

Portland, OR Phone: 866-922-1175

RET Physical Therapy Group

Seattle, Washington Phone: 844-708-7982

Texas Physical Therapy Specialists

Austin TX
San Antonio TX
Phone: 888-658-8483

Pappas OPT Physical, Sports and Hand Therapy

Providence, RI Phone: (401) 205-3423

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