As respected and in-demand as physical therapy has become, patients still hold more than a few misconceptions about what PTs do — and what good physical therapy actually involves. Many people believe physical therapy is only for rehabilitating traumatic injuries, while others worry that the process is inherently painful. Others still believe PTs to be glorified massage therapists and personal trainers, not understanding the profession’s rigorous requirements for education, licensure, and specialization.
To clear up the confusion, educate your patients, and grow your practice, it’s important to understand these myths and misconceptions. Following are the top nine truths about physical therapy that patients should know. If you can clear up any confusion among your current patients, you’ be well on your way to a better reputation, more referrals, and a clientele who trusts your practice for all their rehab needs.
1. PTs work in many different settings.
When most people think of PT, they think of a caricature of the outpatient orthopedic setting: therapeutic exercises, functional activities, and modalities administered to injured athletes, weekend warriors, and post-op patients. Many laypeople also think of PT as the sole purview of athletes, the elderly, or other specialized patient populations.
What these patients don’t understand is that PTs are as diverse as physicians in their settings and specialties. From hospitals to nursing homes to neurorehabilitation centers, PTs can be found in almost every healthcare environment.
2. Only licensed PTs can administer physical therapy.
According to a recent APTA survey, only 42 percent of consumers are aware that physical therapy must be performed by a licensed PT, and 37 percent still believe that other healthcare professionals can provide the same services. Not only is a PT license necessary to practice, additional certifications are often required for clinicians in manual therapy, pelvic floor treatment and other specialties.
3. There are different types of physical therapy.
Just as PTs work in a variety of settings, they use specific skills to treat different patient populations and conditions. Even specialists are exposed to these different skillsets during PT school, but for much of the lay population, the definition of “PT” is only as broad as their exposure.
4. You may be able to see a PT without seeing your doctor.
While some municipalities restrict direct access, all 50 states now allow patients to seek treatment from a PT without a physician’s referral. What’s more, even patients who do get referrals can usually choose to see a different PT. In many cases, patients receive diagnoses, prognoses, treatment, and discharge without ever stepping foot in a doctor’s office.
5. Good physical therapy involves many techniques.
Patients often fail to understand that good physical therapy involves a multifaceted approach. In fact, many laypeople think of physical therapy purely as modalities, massage, or other techniques to which they’ve personally been exposed. Therapeutic exercise is the go-to treatment method for most therapists, but movement is even more effective when paired with modalities, manual therapy, and patient education.
6. Physical therapy isn’t just for post-operative rehabilitation.
Because physical therapy is prescribed to patients following joint replacements, muscle reattachments, and other musculoskeletal surgeries, many patients have adopted a “surgery first, therapy second” mindset. Not only can physical therapy precede surgery, it may be able to prevent it! In fact, physical therapy has proved to be as effective or more effective than surgery for many musculoskeletal conditions, depending on their severity.
7. “No pain, no gain” (usually) isn’t true.
Patients often joke that PT stands for “pain and torture,” but a hard-charging, “no pain, no gain” mindset is actually counterproductive. Pain is usually present during injury — particularly during the acute and subacute phases — but most PT-related activities will lead to a reduction of that pain in the long term.
8. Prevention is better than rehabilitation.
Many patients seem to believe that physical therapy is purely for rehabilitating injuries, or worse yet, that they have to hurt “enough” to even come to a clinic in the first place. As is typically the case in medicine; however, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Patients who seek help from a PT early on can keep minor aches and pains from becoming major injuries. This is particularly true for athletes, whose imbalances and uneven movement patterns can lead to overuse injuries when left untreated.
9. Diet and exercise are important to rehab success.
Like most other healthcare professionals, PTs contend with a variety of lifestyle-related comorbidities. Smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions significantly influence the musculoskeletal system, impeding physical therapy and slowing recovery. For many patients, physical therapy is only effective when they change their diets, exercise habits, and other lifestyle factors.
The field of physical therapy is still growing, and patients are still becoming more knowledgeable. If you can address these misunderstandings among your own clientele, you’ll create greater trust and ultimately generate more business.