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What is Physical Therapy Anyway?

When I tell people that I'm a physical therapist (PT), the response I often get is, “Oh, so you stretch people and give them exercises all day?” At that point I cringe. I wonder, "How did physical therapists get put in this category? Why don’t people know who we are and what we do?"

Most physical therapist are doctors of physical therapy. We spend several years in medical school learning the complex muscular and skeletal systems through anatomy and physiology.  We learn how people move and understand the intricacies of how and why pain occurs. During school, we go on clinical rotations in various settings, such as sports and orthopedic clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers.  Once we graduate, we can choose to pursue residency and fellowship programs.

Physical therapy is a conservative way to treat pain and injury.

I'm always shocked when people come to my clinic and say, after a few treatments, “I didn't know I could feel this good,” or “Because I'm getting older I thought pain was just going to be a part of my life.” I'm here to tell you that's just not true.

When you get injured, there's no magic bullet to make it better. Physical therapists do not prescribe medicine; instead, we prescribe exercise and lifestyle changes. In some cases, a shot or pills can help the situation, but unless you make a lifestyle change, change your posture, strengthen your weaker muscle groups or learn to move differently, the pain will inevitably come back or never go away. This is where PTs come in.

Physical therapy takes work on your part.

You and your physical therapist collaborate and act as a team to get you better. Physical therapists look at a problem or injury like detectives look at a crime scene. We take the time to listen to all of your signs and symptoms, what you're having a difficult time doing or what hurts.  We take into consideration what you have told us and clinically reason through why you're having the issue in the first place. Once we have determined the root cause of your injury, we employ our noninvasive techniques to get you well.

At our clinic, we fortunately have the luxury of time. We see every patient for an hour, one on one. This allows us the ability to really listen to what is going on and understand each individual's specific situation. Here is an example of what might happen in a typical physical therapy appointment at our clinic:

Physical therapy treatment is holistic.

Suppose you have neck pain. We would likely use a combination of manual therapy, exercise and education to improve your neck pain.

Your therapist may begin with manual therapy to decrease the pain in the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments in the area. Manual therapy may include trigger point dry needling, myofascial release, soft tissue mobilization (a form of massage) or joint mobilizations (moving the bones/joint in the area), depending on what the therapist thinks would benefit you most.

Next, the therapist will often spending time educating you about how to modify your posture, sitting or sleep habits. Perhaps your therapist would delve into how you can perform your job or your sport with less pain or without causing further injury. If you were an athlete, the therapist would ask you about your shoes, equipment or training habits. 

Finally, your therapist may give you a couple exercises in the clinic or to do at home. The exercises would likely be a combination of functional, body weight exercises, posture modifications, strength training or possibly Redcord. 

Physical therapy is collaborative and accessible.

At each follow up visit, your therapist will check in with you and see how you are doing or progressing. After a few visits you will most likely begin to feel better. However, if you did not, your therapist would collaborate with an MD for medicine or an MRI, even working with other health care providers like a chiropractor or a massage therapist to holistically treat the problem.  

A typical misconception is that in order to have physical therapy, you must see an MD first. In the state of Georgia, you don't even need a script from your physician to begin seeing a physical therapist: you can see a therapist eight times or up to 21 days before you have to get a script from MD.

Empower yourself to get better and stay better with physical therapy. Get back to what you love today!


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