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Why You Should Turn to Physical Therapy First

Nov 15, 2022

by Vince Kame Jr.
PT, MS, ATC | Owner of the South Chandler Location

Over the past 20 years, more states have granted patients direct access to physical therapy without a physician referral. Although the state of Arizona has already offered this type of access for several years, it was not until recently that insurance companies began paying for physical therapy without a physician referral.

The main reason for this change comes from the mounting data proving that visiting a physical therapist first might reduce costs and improve the overall outcome of injury rehabilitation. Historically, the process from injury to recovery has been to see a physician, try medication, receive diagnostic imaging, rest, and hope for a resolution. If the problem was not resolved, the next step was to try physical therapy and maybe some sort of medical intervention such as injections or surgery. However, because of the increasing cost of medical care, insurance companies and patients have been looking for methods to lower the cost of rehabilitation. One of these methods is to try PT first for musculoskeletal problems.

Top Three Reasons to Seek Physical Therapy First for Pain

1. Reduce or eliminate pain.

Physical therapy provides the opportunity to reduce or eliminate pain through specific therapeutic exercises and manual therapy techniques, such as joint and soft tissue mobilization, to restore normal joint mechanics to support and help heal injured tissues. Modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and taping techniques can also reduce pain during recovery.

2. Avoid or recover from surgery.

In many cases, if physical therapy can address the reasons contributing to pain, you may be able to avoid surgery altogether. If you do need surgery, pre-surgery physical therapy can improve mobility and strength and help get you in better condition, making it easier to recover from surgery with postoperative physical therapy more quickly and with better outcomes.

Woman works through obstacle.

3. Improve mobility.

If you have difficulty with standing, walking, or transitioning, such as moving from a sitting to a standing position, exercises to improve flexibility and strength can improve your ability to move with greater ease, making everyday activities more enjoyable. Physical therapists can also instruct and fit you for an assistive device such as a cane, crutches, or other assistive devices designed to improve your mobility.

When looking at patients who went to physical therapy first, there was an average savings of over $250 in one study and over $1,000 in another. Overall, there were substantial savings across the board with less imaging, less medication, and even less treatment.
Similarly, a study looking at patients with low back pain reported significant cost savings.

Physical therapy can offer a pain management alternative to opioid use.

Again, these savings came from PT first’s role in reducing emergency room visits, imaging such as X-rays and MRI, and opioid use. This study also found a 9% increase in completing functional goals when using PT first.

Physical therapy has evolved greatly over the past 20 to 25 years, as have the patients it serves.  Due to costs and other factors, the goal now is to fix the problem as soon as possible with as little healthcare use as possible. Physical therapy enables the therapist to treat the cause of the pain early on and to begin the rehabilitation by restoring the proper mechanics that may be causing the pain.

We are also trained to recognize when physical therapy is not the proper or best first course of action and can point patients in the best direction. The physician-physical therapy team is still the standard when dealing with musculoskeletal problems. This team will always be present for and critical to the care of a high percentage of patients. However, as healthcare evolves, the evidence favoring a physical therapy first approach continues to grow.

If you have any questions regarding direct access to physical therapy or to schedule a pain assessment contact your nearest Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic.

Vince Kame Jr.

by Vince Kame Jr.
PT, MS, ATC | Owner of the South Chandler Location

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