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Why Physical Therapy Should Be Your First Stop

By: Rachel Herrmann, DPT

It’s common for us to say, ‘I’ll wait and see if it gets better.’ Often times, people will get an injury or develop a pain and then wait a period of time to see if it will go away on its own—especially if it starts after we were a little more active one day. We assume the pain is normal.

But when that pain doesn’t go away, the next step is often to see a doctor, which may or may not be something you can schedule right away. And then you wait for the X-ray or MRI, and then wait another few days for the imaging results just to be told to go to physical therapy. You are NOT defined by your X-ray or MRI results. Imaging results can sound scary or intimidating. However, many diagnoses   identify conditions or injuries that occur naturally over time with wear and tear. MRIs and X-rays are common diagnostic tools used to identify soft abnormalities and bony changes. However, the cost associated with these tests are expensive and can often be avoided by seeking a physical therapist first. Often times, MRI and X-ray results don’t change the course of your physical therapy plan of care. The benefit of using physical therapy as your first course of action will help you avoid out of pocket costs associated with imaging, as well as the time commitment it takes to go back and forth to your doctors for the results before getting a referral to physical therapy.

Why not just skip that hassle and co-pay at the doctor’s office and come straight to physical therapy?

By coming to physical therapy first, we can evaluate your condition and determine what’s causing your pain and what factors aggravate it. A physical therapist will then educate you on what to do or not to do in order to prevent you from making that pain or condition worse. As you’re able to manage your pain level, a prescribed plan of care will incorporate:

  • Manual, hands-on therapy to loosen up tight muscles, increase blood flow to injured tissues and increase joint mobility.
  • Stretching and strengthening to improve body mechanics and decrease your risk for future injury.

Decreased strength is another impact of waiting to handle a pain or problem because you’re having to decrease your activity level due to pain. The weaker the muscles become, the longer it can take to normalize your strength and optimize joint function. In addition, the longer you have the pain, the more likely it is for your body to develop compensations because you start to change the way you move or perform activities to avoid pain. These compensations can lead to overuse, wear and tear and pain on other body parts. Delaying treatment can also progress acute pain into chronic pain. Rule of thumb, the sooner you start addressing your ache or pain, the better.

Whether your pain has just started or it’s been lingering for a while, physical therapy is a great first step to getting you back to the healthy, active lifestyle you want.

In the state of Virginia, we have Direct Access, which means you can get evaluated by a Doctor of Physical Therapy without a script from your doctor or specialist. Trying physical therapy first will save you time and money. During your initial evaluation, your physical therapist will perform a full examination of your physical deficits, identify areas of weakness and range of motion limitations, create a comprehensive plan of care to help you reach your goals, and establish a home exercise program specifically tailored to your needs. Physical  therapists have the skills to diagnose and treat orthopedic conditions and injuries. At LSTC, we gradually progress your exercise program here in the clinic, and update your home exercise program throughout your plan of care to ensure you meet your personal goals and leave physical therapy with the tools you need to continue independently to maintain your progress for lasting results.

CLICK HERE for more on how physical therapy can help you.

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