Common Physical Therapy Questions
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What is physical therapy?
It consists of scientific, evidence based physical procedures used in the treatment of patients with a disability, disease, or injury, to achieve and maintain functional rehabilitation and to prevent malfunction or deformity. Treatments are designed to minimize residual physical disability, and to contribute to the patient’s comfort and well-being. Physical therapy is prescribed for patients with varied orthopedic, neurological, vascular, and respiratory conditions, which may be the result of congenital malfunction, disability acquired through disease or trauma, or inherited dysfunction.
Is physical therapy like massage therapy or chiropractic care?
We all address the many different tissues in the body that may be contributing to your pain or dysfunction, but we may apply different techniques to accomplish our goals. For example, a physical therapist may opt not to manipulate the spine, but instead might use small muscle contractions by the patient to achieve the same results. We also involve active exercises as part of virtually every program, encouraging your body to help take care of the problem as it was designed to do. The primary philosophy of physical therapy involves facilitation of the natural healing process, while teaching each patient how to maintain these healing changes long term.
Do I need a prescription to get physical therapy?
Some insurance plans require you to have a signed prescription from your doctor. As long as your physician is aware of your current condition, we will be able to assist you in getting the necessary prescription from them as needed, if you arrive without one.
My doctor is suggesting surgery. Should I try physical therapy first?
A doctor may refer a patient for physical therapy before opting for surgery. A conservative approach with physical therapy in most cases is a good idea prior to surgery. The physical therapy referral is also made when the patient has had a high number of treatments by other types of providers and continues to have complaints.
Is an insurance authorization any different from a physician’s referral?
Yes. An insurance authorization is usually obtained through the referrals coordinator in your doctor’s office, who gets written permission for treatment in physical therapy from your insurance company. This is normally seen in Workmen’s Comp claims as well as some insurances such as Tricare.
What should I expect during my first visit?
Your first visit consists of information gathering with the physical therapist, as we review your answers to our questionnaire, as well as testing you for things such as loss of strength and mobility. Wearing comfortable, loose clothing assists your therapist in gaining access to the area that we will be looking at as well as allowing for greater mobility during testing. Your therapist will take things slow at the first session if needed due to pain. Treatment may be started at the first session, along with establishing a treatment plan and goals. Also be aware that, following this first visit, you may experience an increase in symptoms for a short period of time, as we are stirring up the structures causing the pain. Let your therapist know if this is of specific concern for you.
Should I bring a medications list?
It is helpful to us to know what medication you are taking. This should include any natural or herbal supplements. If you are taking multiple medications, it is always a good idea to keep a current list with the dosages in your wallet anyway. Tuck it in behind your license for easy access for emergency personnel if you are in an accident. If you are a Medicare patient, your insurance requires that we go over this list with you in some detail.
Should I take pain medication before I come?
If you are concerned about your pain, and it is time for your normal dosage before coming to physical therapy, then by all means use your medication. We will encourage you to use your medications especially the first day or so following the initial evaluation, just because we may be stirring up symptoms during the evaluation. Be aware of how you generally react to your medications, however, as we do need you to be mentally clear during the session as we gather information regarding your complaints.
What kinds of tests will be performed?
Your physical therapist will test for things like range of motion, strength, numbness and tenderness to touch. We may perform more specific testing for your diagnosis, such as ligament testing for the knee or ankle, or motion testing for the spine, for example.
Wear comfortable clothing. You may be asked to perform some exercises, and the therapist may need to move you around during testing and treatment. For example, bring shorts if you are coming in for work on your knee.
How long will my appointment be?
Plan on your appointments lasting 45-60 minutes. You will receive one on one attention from your provider during this time for your treatment, so please turn off your cell phone unless you need to have it on for a specific reason.
Will my therapist talk to my doctor?
The physical therapist sends notes to your doctor including initial evaluations and progress notes, usually every 4 weeks, or earlier if you are going to see your doctor sooner. On occasion the therapist will call and discuss your treatment with your doctor if there are any specific concerns that cannot be conveyed through written communication.
Will my insurance pay for physical therapy?
Most insurance providers do cover physical therapy. You still may be responsible for co-pays, co-insurance, deductibles and supply charges. We always call and verify physical therapy benefits with your insurance company prior to your first visit, and you will receive a phone call prior to your first appointment with the information that we have regarding your benefits. Since you are ultimately responsible for you bill, we highly encourage you to call your insurance company as well.
After I have an evaluation, what will my treatment consist of?
Every patient has different needs but some common treatments may include:
- Manual therapy
- Therapeutic exercises
- Ultrasound or a type of electrical stimulation to decrease pain and inflammation
How do I know physical therapy can help me?
As with any type of treatment, physical therapy may or may not be helpful in treating your particular problem. It may take a few visits to experience significant improvement from treatment. If your therapist does not feel physical therapy will be helpful, they will discuss this when covering treatment goals during your initial evaluation. In general, most patients can benefit greatly from physical therapy.