Is it Time to Schedule a Physical Therapy appointment?
Not all physical therapy patients are getting over joint-replacement surgery. Physical therapy can be very beneficial for common injuries, and can help alleviate pain, restore function and movement, and prevent more serious issues later on down the road. But when is the best time to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist?
Do I need a doctor referral?
Absolutely not. If you’re dealing with constant pain, aches, or you are having trouble performing daily tasks, you do not need to wait until you see a doctor to seek out physical therapy. In fact, you might be doing yourself a favor by not waiting.
A trained physical therapist will be able to assess and notify your doctor of any urgent concerns. They can also contact your doctor if a prescription is needed for insurance purposes. Some doctors may prefer seeing you prior to beginning treatment and issuing a prescription for physical therapy, but in the state of Ohio anyone can see a physical therapist for an evaluation without a prescription.
If pain continues to linger three or four days after it starts, even if you’ve been resting it and icing it, it’s time to make an appointment to see a physical therapist (PT). Ignoring it and waiting for it to “just go away” could exacerbate the problem. Even a recurring dull ache could be a sign of a more serious injury that a trained physical therapist can assess.
Over-the-counter meds don’t help
Aches and pains are common irritations for anyone from athletes to the average Joe. However, if over-the-counter pain relief and/or anti-inflammatory medications are needed for controlling your pain, it’s time to get things checked out to prevent long-term effects from over-utilization of pain meds and over-the-counter medications.
Breaks, sprains, and tears
It goes without saying that a broken bone brought on by a traumatic event likely needs immediate medical attention. However, not all traumatic events result in injuries of that scope, but that doesn’t mean they should go ignored.
If you’ve ever rolled your ankle, causing it to swell, or slipped on ice outside and landed on your knee, you should probably schedule an appointment and get it checked out. A seriously sprained ankle that is left untreated can lead to chronic ankle joint instability or early-onset arthritis in that joint. For a bruised knee, or a contusion, it’s usually a good idea to get it checked out to rule out any other potential injuries.
If the pain related to these injuries is sharp and centralized, this can indicate a more serious injury, such as a pulled muscle or stress fracture.
Clearly visible and/or noticeable changes
Is your ankle noticeably swollen after a run? Is one arm pulling weaker than the other while swimming? Such changes are good indicators of an underlying issue that needs immediate attention from a PT. While those over-the-counter braces and straps may help to temporarily mask the pain, they do not treat whatever it is that’s causing the changes. Continued use of the joint will cause the injury to get worse, or can potentially cause another injury.
Some of the other more common reasons to schedule an appointment with a physical therapist include:
- Neck and lower back pain
- Arthritis in one or multiple joints
- Fractures and other orthopedic conditions
- Bowel or bladder incontinence
- Problems with balance or mobility
- Chronic fatigue and weakness
- Pre- and post-surgical conditioning and strengthening
- Pre- and post-surgical interventions
- Cancer recovery
- Fitness and wellness education
- Weight loss
- Prevention of osteoporosis
- Respiratory problems/poor cardiovascular endurance
- Knee, ankle, and foot problems
- Shoulder, arm, hand, and wrist problems (e.g. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, shoulder tendonitis, etc.)
- Neuro-rehabilitation (e.g. post-stroke, spinal cord/head injury recovery, etc.)
- Work-related injuries (e.g. repetitive motion injuries, slip/fall accidents, etc.)
If you are still unsure, consult with your physician to see if physical therapy would be right for you.