Why Should I See A Physical Therapist First?
This is a very important question to ask yourself and I will put it this way. As a physical therapist, I went to school to study a whole lot of information about a very specific area, musculoskeletal injuries (think muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, fasciia, all the things that are not our inside organs!) . I did not go to school like my husband did as a Physician Assistant who studied about a whole lot of things, but a little bit about all those things (love you!). To put it plainly, we are THE musculoskeletal experts. We know those parts of the body. We eat, sleep and breathe muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, fasciia and how the body moves. As direct access physical therapists we learned pharmacology, radiology, and general body systems in order to know the warning signs that something other than a musculoskeletal injury might be the problem.
Do I Need To See My Primary Care Physician First?
No, you don’t. Direct access physical therapy means you can go to your physical therapist of choice without a consult from your PCM. Florida Law states that physical therapy is direct access. Each state has their own laws and requirements. In the state of Florida, a physical therapist can treat a patient for 30 days without any consult from another provider and then can continue to treat the patient once their prescribed plan of care has been approved if the treatment is longer than 30 days.
You are in charge of making sure you are the right fit with your provider. Maybe you have a sports-related injury. You should probably make sure your PT knows your sport and what it takes to get you back into the game. Maybe you have a pelvic floor dysfunction. DEFINITELY go to the PT who knows and specializes in that field. You wouldn’t see a gynocologist for a cough. Find a physical therapist for your musculoskeletal injury.
Over the past 10+ years the profession of physical therapy has transitioned to earning a doctorate of physical therapy degree. This simply means physical therapists must graduate college with a bachelors degree (most likely in something science or health related) and then attend graduate school for physical therapy for another 3-4 years, depending on the program. There is usually a research requirement and 1-2 internships that must be completed before a DPT degree is earned and then everyone must pass the Physical Therapy Board Exam to attain a license.
How Does A Military PT Differ?
I must admit that I was spoiled being a physical therapist for the US Army. We did not get referrals from physicians. The only referrals we received were from our orthopedic surgeons for our post-op patients and those also just said the name of the surgery and the protocol to follow. We had a ton of autonomy. As a PT in the Army I ordered imaging, certain medications and referred to other specialty clinics. We saw patients straight off the drop zone from an Airborne jump or immediately after an intense PT football game. Our Soldiers returned to duty better and faster because of this direct access to care.
So Again, Why Should I See PT First?
We can get you moving safely. The key to rehabilitation is getting the appropriate stress to the area of injury for the stage of healing you are in. How many times have you had an injury, only to then wait 2 weeks for an appointment with your PCM, to then wait another 2-4 weeks for the referral to PT? That’s now 4-6 weeks of WASTED time that you could have been using to get better. We also know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t to order imaging, which can save you time and money in the long run.
Not all PT’s are comfortable with direct access. But many are. Most PTs that are sports medicine or orthopedically certified are the way to go. When you are looking for a PT, give them a call and talk to them about their experience and skills. You might just find the one you are looking for to get you moving toward your goals of healthy, painfree movement.