Have you ever heard the term direct access for health care? How about direct access for Physical Therapy? I am guessing most people haven’t, and if you have, maybe you aren’t quite sure what it really means. In the “old days” patients had to rely on getting an order from their doctor to go to physical therapy and in most cases people would go reluctantly because “my doctor said I have to.”  Recently most states have passed laws that now allow anyone to see a Physical Therapist with direct access (check your local states laws).  This means that anyone can be seen directly by a physical therapist without seeing his or her doctor first.  In other words, a physical therapist can be your first access point for medical care when it comes to problems with movement. I know, this sounds kind of crazy and maybe even a little scary. Let me explain why this should not be scary and why it is actually a great option for people who are experiencing issues with movement, pain or performance.

Top 5 Reasons to go Direct Access to a Physical Therapist

1.     COST! When it comes to healthcare, there is no hiding that it can be very expensive.  However, you can be smart and savvy about how you choose to approach certain issues. One of those smart ways to keep cost down is by seeing your physical therapist first when it comes to muscle, joint and other movement related pain. It has been shown that treatment from a physical therapist can provide a significant cost savings when compared to the normal route of first seeing your primary care doctor.  By starting your journey at the therapist’s clinic you may avoid unnecessary doctors visits, costly medications, needless imaging and possibly avoid surgery!

2.     ACCESS: direct access to a physical therapist allows you the ability to get in and see a rehabilitation specialist quickly. For example, lets say you twist your knee while shooting hoops in the driveway or practicing at the gym. You may wait a day or two (or longer) to see if it gets better on its own. When it doesn’t, you probably end up calling your family doctor. In a lot of cases it may take up to a week or two to get in for your visit and when you finally get there they may do a quick evaluation of your knee and maybe even take an x-ray (maybe warranted, maybe not), which is another cost to account for. At that point, if it is serious enough they may even refer you to see an orthopedic specialist. Now you are looking at the hassle of setting up another appointment and again waiting weeks to get in. This hassle can all be decreased and possibly avoided by making your fist call to an orthopedic physical therapist. Physical therapists are specially trained, and according to studies, rank closely to orthopedic physicians in examining muscle and joint injuries. Following the evaluation with your therapist it can be determined if you really need to get in to see that specialist or if the best option is conservative rehab. In the long run, a therapist can help direct you in choosing the most effective treatment option while wasting the least amount of your time and money!

3.     RESULTS: Not only can you save money and time by seeing a therapist as your first line of care, you can get great results and possibly avoid those unwanted medications, injections or even avoid surgery! For example, recent studies have shown success with conservative therapy treatment and similar long-term outcomes in those who have underwent therapy versus those who have opted for surgery for meniscus tears of the knee. If you are looking for a way to avoid more serious treatment for your muscle, joint or movement issues check into setting up an evaluation with a physical therapist! Physical therapists use a combination of hands on techniques, specific exercise prescription, work on improving faulty movements and enhancement of already strong movement patterns on top of providing the client with the education on ways to help maintain and progress the improvements on their own!

4.     MOVEMENT HEALTH: Movement is something that a lot of people take for granted until it becomes compromised from an injury or overuse. Movement is obviously very important for day to day functioning but it is also a huge part of people’s enjoyment. Whether you are professional athlete, high school/collegiate athlete, recreational athlete, fitness enthusiast or a parent just wanting to play with your kids, being able to have pain free movement is huge! When it comes to the treatment of movement issues or pain with movement a great first place to start is a physical therapist. They are, after all, movement specialists who not only evaluate and develop treatments to get you moving better and with less pain, but help educate you so that you can take care your own movement issues with eventually less reliance on a healthcare provider. With that being said, take the first step in taking over your current and future movement health by calling a physical therapist first!

5.     RELATIONSHIP: How many times can you count that you spent an hour or more with your doctor? Let me re-phrase that, face-to-face time with your doctor? It doesn’t happen often does it? Imagine the relationship you could build with your provider if you were able to spend that amount of quality time trying to figure out and game plan your treatment. You are in luck, this isn’t a fantasy. Physical Therapists spend the quality time you need and deserve during hour long, and possibly longer, evaluations and treatment sessions to help determine what’s going on and how to best get you back to moving pain free and get back to doing the activities that you are missing out on or not performing to your highest level. The best results happen when the healthcare provider and the client are both on the same page and working towards the same goals. So, get out there and start building a relationship with your physical therapist!

Dr. Kyle Schwebke, PT, DPT

Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy