Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Physical Therapy has been around in the United States since the epidemic of poliomyelitis in the 1800's. Since its inception, the field has grown to involve all types of facilities, services, and patients but the goal is all the same...keep people moving well and living healthy.
There still seems to be some confusion among the general population as to what physical therapists actually do and how vital the field is to medicine. In today's post, we will break down all this including what it takes to become a physical therapist, how easy it is to access services with a physical therapist and give you an idea about how quickly it can start working for you.
What is a Physical Therapist?
A physical therapist is a functional medicine health care provider who uses a variety of techniques and interventions in both a passive and active capacity to solve health and wellness problems while help you reach your functional goals. If this definition seems very broad, that is on purpose. Physical therapists are involved in every aspect of medicine and help patients at any stage of life. Physical therapists are always there to make you feel comfortable and improve your life physically, mentally, and socially.
How Much Education Does a Physical Therapist Have?
Like many other clinicians and medical providers, a physical therapist has a significant level of education. Every physical therapist who currently comes out of school has a Doctorate level of education (much like your general physician), They spend 6 to 7 years in school learning how to best help patients, first by obtaining a bachelor's degree and then another 3 years of Doctorate level training.
The road to becoming a physical therapist is widely varied and therefore, each PT may have a different level of understanding and knowledge, just like many other Doctor-level specialists you may see. After the doctorate program, a physical therapist must first pass a licensing exam to be able to practice and then must maintain that license throughout their career by obtaining continuing education credits to stay up to date on best practice techniques.
Additionally, there are other certifications, specializations, residencies, and fellowships to continue to pursue even higher levels of education and skill...just like any other Doctor (you can see the theme going on here)
What Types of Patients/Clients Do Physical Therapists See?
You can see a physical therapist in almost every medical and wellness setting to help you with a variety of your everyday needs. If you have a problem that involves your ability to move, function, and live the way you want to, there is probably a physical therapist out there to help you for that problem. We are like car mechanics for your body where if something is "off", we can fix it just like a car mechanic fixes your cars alignment, breaks, or changes the oil.
If I went into every problem that a physical therapist could help you solve, this would be a very long blog post. However, some of the common problems that physical therapists solve which most people feel are “normal” (but really are not) include urination when coughing/sneezing and general aches and pains that are related to “aging”. Make sure you take care of yourself and don’t let these easily fixable things impact your life significantly.
When Is Physical Therapy Needed?
Physical therapy is generally needed whenever you have a functional problem that needs to be solved. Generally, patients see a physical therapist when they are in significant pain, have an injury or surgery, or have some level of disability. However, these are not the only cases you need to see one. The sooner you see us, the less pain or changes in your daily life you will experience.
Prevention of injury, illness, pain, and disability is the best medicine, especially as you age. By doing so, you can better perform in whatever activity you wish to do. Just because you are getting older does not mean you need to do less. Maintenance and improvement of function are vital to living your best quality of life. However, this aspect of physical therapy is probably utilized the least.
Do not wait until you are unable to do something, or the pain (not necessarily physical) is way too much to tolerate before seeking assistance. The quicker you get professional help, the faster you can get back to the things you are missing out on in life.
How Quickly Should I See Results When Working with A Physical Therapist?
Upon seeing a physical therapist, the results should be almost immediate. I really mean it! The therapy and treatment begin from the first time you see them and the greeting they give you. Just by making you feel comfortable and safe, you can already start to feel like this is going to be helpful for you. There is plenty of evidence (read up on Adriann Louw, for example) proving that one can start to alleviate chronic pain by establishing a connection with a PT.
However, most of the healing, recovery, and help, that comes from seeing a physical therapist is achieved in the intervention itself. After a thorough interview with the physical therapist about your issue and your goals, a detailed and complete physical exam will allow for a determination of the cause. From there, the two of you can help develop a plan that works best for you to help solve your problem and achieve your goals.
The results can be immediate but not all the time. Some issues and diagnoses take time to start to get some relief. Having this conversation with your physical therapist and having a full understanding of what you are dealing with is vital in this aspect. Continued diligence in attending therapy as directed and doing any homework instructed outside of therapy will ensure that you are successful in your endeavor.
If results are not obtained in the timely manner, make sure you are re-evaluating the plan and making changes if needed. Figuring out what does not work eventually helps to figure out what may work next. Don't give up.
Can I See a Physical Therapist Right Away?
All states, provinces, and countries have different rules and regulations as to when you are allowed to see a physical therapist. In most cases within the United States, however, you can see a physical therapist right away without needing to see another physician ahead of time. If you need to see another medical professional before working with us, we are able to determine that and send you to the perfect person that’s in your best interest.
As far as New York State, you as a health care consumer can see a physical therapist for both medically based services for 10 visits or 30 days, whichever comes first. After this point, you will need a prescription from a physician to continue if being seeing for an injury or medical condition. For wellness style services, you are able to work with a physical therapist at your will and to the full extent you wish to pursue your goals and push your achievements
While it may take weeks before being seen by a physician, you can thankfully begin your path to recovery right away with a physical therapist. NO DELAYS. NO CONTINUED SUFFERING. IMMEDIATE HELP while waiting to get continued help. Once you have the prescription from your physician, you can continue to receive the results you have already been benefiting from.
How Do I Know If My Physical Therapist is the Right One for Me?
This is a very complex question but the most simplified way to answer this is by asking yourself: Is the physical therapist you are seeing a medical provider who provides individualized attention to you? Are they someone who can really listen to you and understand your problems to then create an individualized plan that addresses your specific needs? If you can answer yes, then you have found the right physical therapist.
Unfortunately, the current, traditional medical system has made finding this right person much harder lately with corporate systems, franchises, and drops in insurance reimbursement becoming more about productivity, scarcity, and churning out as many people as possible with cookie cutter interventions rather than actually helping the person (this is a further discussion for another day though).
DO NOT SETTLE
When calling up a physical therapist office, be sure to ask questions. You should ask what a normal session looks like. Are they treating just you or other patients at the same time? Some clinics may see two to four other patients concurrently, which is neither ethical nor helpful to you. Ask to speak with the physical therapist you will be seeing.
From here, you can share your concerns and issue to determine if he has the needed experience to treat your condition. Additionally, ask about prior patients with similar issues and their outcomes to ensure the physical therapist has had success. These questions aren’t meant to annoy anyone but rather to ensure you are getting the results you deserve. If you find the clinic giving you hard time about answering your questions, that’s a sign in itself; they probably don't have your best interest in mind anyway.
If you are looking for a specialist who can focus solely on you and your needs, and would like to find out more about how physical therapy can help you get back to living your best life, then please give us a call at (516) 387-4669 or please fill out the inquiry form HERE. Never settle for a generalist who has a degree. Find the best one to best handle your problem. Until next time, keep tuning in to Ascent Physical Therapy and our future content.