Getting to the truth of the matter is never more important than when our health and well-being are at stake. So when it comes to physical therapy – which helps people improve their ability to move about pain-free – it’s vital to separate fact from fiction in order to make the most of this crucial resource, according to Sridhar Yalamanchili, PT, MSPT, and Director of Rehabilitation at Atlantic Spine Center.
A September 2014 nationwide survey by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) revealed alarming misconceptions many adults have about physical therapy, which the Physical Therapy Journal estimated was utilized on an outpatient basis by 9 million adults in the middle of the last decade.
With an aging Baby Boomer population in the U.S. and pain-free movement so critical to pursuing job and leisure activities, the role of physical therapists – who are experts at improving movement and motion – is more important than ever, Yalamanchili says. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for physical therapists are projected to grow 36% between 2012 and 2022 – much faster than the average growth for all other occupations.
“The biggest obstacle posed by these myths about physical therapy is they might prevent people from seeking care that can change their lives for the better,” says Yalamanchili. “That’s why it’s so crucial to get the truth out there.”
Top myths about physical therapy
What did the APTA survey – which conducted 500 online interviews of men and women – uncover? The top misconceptions about physical therapy include:
Myth: A physician referral or prescription is required for evaluation by a physical therapist.
Fact: “Anyone in the United States can be screened by a physical therapist without a doctor’s prior referral,” Yalamanchili says. “We can be your first step, rather than part of a series of steps to address a problem.”
Myth: Physical therapy is painful.
Fact: “The job of a physical therapist is actually to minimize pain, working within a patient’s pain threshold to enable healing and restore movement,” Yalamanchili notes.
Myth: Any healthcare professional can perform physical therapy.
Fact: “While some clinicians perform treatments that seem similar to physical therapy, the precise set of skills employed by physical therapists can only be gained through the high level of training and education they undertake,” he says. “Physical therapy can only be done by licensed physical therapists.” Physical therapists possess a unique skill set to assess movement, identify muscle imbalances and improve efficiency of movement to help in healing and preventing injuries.
Myth: Physical therapy is only for injuries or accidents.
Fact: “Though many people are introduced to physical therapy to rehabilitate after trauma from injuries or accidents, physical therapy is a great and evidence based tool to help restore full range of motion and function after surgery, ” Yalamanchili states. In some cases pre-surgery physical therapy helps to expedite recovery after surgery. “Others, suffering from chronic conditions such as back pain, discover its potent effects on reducing everyday discomfort.”
Myth: Physical therapy isn’t covered by insurance.
Fact: “Most medical insurance covers some type of physical therapy,” he says. “Also, physical therapy actually saves medical costs by helping patients avoid unnecessary expenses from tests, surgery, drugs and further injuries.”
Yalamanchili emphasizes that a patient’s relationship with a physical therapist is collaborative, with the ultimate goal of educating patients on maximizing their mobility, minimizing pain and empowering them in their recovery. “Despite what many people seem to think,” he adds, “physical therapy can be cost-effective, easy to access and unquestionably improves quality of life.”