Updated: Aug 13
Every so often I encounter a situation that makes me realize there are still many people who do not truly understand what a physical therapist is and does. I am so passionate about my profession and always strive to make it better, so this post is dedicated to dispelling some common myths about Physical Therapy to set the record straight!
Myth #1: Physical Therapists have 2 or 4 year degrees.
This was true a very long time ago. Then it was upped to a masters degree. NOW, physical therapists go through 6-7 years of schooling and graduate with a doctorate level education. It's called a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) and it is a clinical doctorate. Physical therapists are trained to be experts in clinical reasoning, injury assessment and diagnosis. Because of this, we are now the first provider of choice for many patients.
Myth #2: You do not need to see an actual Physical Therapist to receive physical therapy treatment.
The only person who can legally and ethically provide physical therapy is a Physical Therapist. Many people believe that they are able to do PT on their own or with a different provider, such as a personal trainer. However, this is far from the truth. Physical Therapists are highly skilled in diagnosing injuries and being able to appropriately prescribe movement and exercise to address a patients' limitations. It is much more beneficial to receive these skilled services from the correct provider so that you can be put on the most effective treatment plan. I have had patients in the past who waited to see a PT and wasted months not addressing the correct problem or diagnosis. Once properly evaluated by a PT, it should take only 1-2 visits before you start feeling better. Don't make this mistake, see a PT first!
Myth #3: Physical therapy is only for post-operative conditions or geriatrics.
Yes, it is true that PT does rehab post-op cases and work with the elderly population but this is NOT ALL WE DO! Physical therapists are movement specialists, injury prevention specialists and overall wellness experts. There are a lot of different settings you will find us in: hospitals, nursing homes, sports, orthopedic clinics, neurological clinics, schools... the list goes on and on! There are also many specialties a PT can hold and you will find us working with every population from professional athletes to weekend warriors. Pretty much anything you can think of, we cover!
Myth #4: Physical therapy is supposed to be painful.
That's why they say PT stands for pain and torture right!? Wrong. Your physical therapists' #1 job is to help your body heal and manage your pain. It is true that sometimes this involves discomfort during a session, however there is a purpose behind it and you should feel some relief by the time you walk out of the clinic. PT's are trained at knowing how much a patient can handle and you need to trust that they know just how hard to push you. We don't just hurt people for fun, I promise ;-)
Myth #5: You can only see a Physical Therapist if you already have an injury.
As physical therapists, one of our main goals is to empower our patients to take control of their own health and wellness. That being said, we are leading providers in preventative medicine. You can absolutely see a PT for injury prevention, wellness and conditioning programs in addition to "traditional rehab". This way, you can learn ways to address an injury BEFORE it ever occurs. I 100% believe everyone should have a PT they trust on standby and see for regular wellness checkups.
Myth #6: You have to go to the physical therapist your doctor sends you to.
This is absolutely false. It is important to be an informed consumer and know that you have control over your own health. As a patient, you have the right to choose whichever PT you would like, even if your doctor has recommended someone else. In some states, you don't even need a doctors referral and can see a PT first . **Check on your state law first. I work in VA which is a direct access state, but not all states have direct access yet**
Myth #7: Physical therapy is for heat, ultrasound and STIM.
I hear this one on a weekly basis but the reality is I couldn't tell you the last time I used one of these modalities and I think most PT's would tell you the same. There once was a time that therapists did use A LOT of modalities, however with advancing education and evidence based research we now know that this is not the most effective way to help our patients. The focus of PT is to assess the way a patient moves, determine their dysfunction and help restore function through corrective exercises, manual therapies and education. As therapists our best tools are our minds, eyes and hands- not the extra equipment that we use!
Myth #8: Your Physical Therapist "heals you".
Well, as much as I wish I had a magic wand, I would be out of a job if I did. The patient and therapist should always work as a team. It is true that a PT's clinical skills are often what a patient needs, but YOU are a part of that plan too. We can give you all the education and manual therapy in the world, but unless you follow through with your plan on your own time it just won't work! As therapists we always want to empower our patients to take responsibility for their own health and wellness. We are here to guide you in that journey, but ultimately it is what you do that matters.
Hopefully today you learned something you didn't know about PT and I gave you some food for thought! As always, send your questions and comments my way. I love to hear from you :-)
Want to learn more about Physical Therapy?
Check out the American Association of Physical Therapy's FREE public resources at www.moveforwardpt.com