7 Things You Didn't Know About Your Physical Therapist

A physical therapist and patient consult.
You should have a therapeutic alliance with your physical therapist. Uppercut Images/Getty Images

When you are injured or ill, or if you have had surgery, you may know how your functional mobility can be affected.  You may have a difficult time moving in bed, sitting up, or walking.  Pain may prevent you from working, performing regular housekeeping, or enjoying your normal activities.

But did your know that your physical therapist should be the first person you call whenever you have a limitation in your functional mobility?

Physical therapists are healthcare providers who help people move better and feel better by using various treatment techniques and modalities.  They are movement experts who specialize in helping you live your life to the fullest with the greatest amount of functional mobility.

There are some things you may not know about your physical therapist or about the physical therapy profession.  Here's a list of some little known things about physical therapists and the physical therapy.

  1. You do not need a referral to visit a physical therapist.  In the United States, all 50 states have some form of direct access - the ability to seek the skilled services of a PT without a doctor's referral.  This means that if you are having a problem with mobility, pain, or a loss of function, your physical therapist can evaluate, and in many cases, treat your condition.
  2. Your physical therapist may be a doctor.  The American Physical Therapy Association has created a vision statement called Vision 2020 which states that by 2020, physical therapy services will be provided by physical therapists who are trained at the doctorate level.  Many physical therapists now hold a clinical doctorate level degree and are recognized as the movement experts of choice to help people restore normal function and prevent injury.
  1. Your physical therapist may occasionally get injured too.  You may not believe this, but your physical therapist is a person too, and people sometimes get injured.  Many people are surprised to hear their PT has back pain or a sore hip.  Physical therapists get injured too; they just know the right things to do to get back to optimal health quickly.
  1. Physical therapists evaluate and treat people across the lifespan.  People are often surprised to hear that physical therapists treat babies or young children.  Why would a baby require PT?  Sometimes, babies need a little extra help reaching developmental milestones, or torticollis may affect a baby's ability to properly turn his or her head.   Physical therapists are movement experts who help everyone reach their full functional potential, regardless of age.
  2. You don't need an MRI or X-ray before starting physical therapy.  Your physical therapist is trained to assess your condition and help restore your mobility, and an MRI simply is not necessary to do this.  Sure, an MRI is a sensitive test that can show a lot of different structures.  But an MRI is not specific to your condition, and an MRI never shows your PT what you're feeling or how your symptoms are changing.  Fancy diagnostic tools have their place in medicine, and your PT may ask to see your x-ray or MRI, but those tests are not absolutely necessary before going to physical therapy.
  1. Your physical therapist is a great motivator.  When you are injured, it may be difficult to get moving again and start on the rehab road.  You may be feeling depressed or discouraged. Your physical therapist should serve as your ally, helping to keep you motivated during your rehab.  Think of your relationship with your physical therapist as a therapeutic alliance; both you and your PT are working to get you moving again.
  2. Physical therapists work in many different settings.  When thinking about physical therapy, many people think about a PT clinic with exercise machines and traction tables.  But physical therapists work in a variety of settings including hospitals, schools, cardiac rehab centers, or in your home.

Your physical therapist is a person who is an expert in human movement who can help you understand what to expect from PT, what to expect from your specific injury or illness, and what to do (or not do) when you are limited in your mobility.  He or she will work closely with you and your doctor to ensure that you remain healthy and mobile so you can enjoy the things you want to do.

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