APTA debunks seven common physical therapy myths

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A survey conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) studied seven of the most common myths about physical therapy. While the demand for physical therapists continues to rise and many consumers are experiencing the transformative effects of physical therapy, some misconceptions persist. APTA is debunking some of the most common ones to better enable consumers to take charge of their health and improve their overall fitness, mobility and quality of life.

Following are seven of the most common myths about physical therapy, followed by corresponding facts:

Myth: I need a physician’s referral to see a physical therapist.
Fact: The survey revealed 70 percent of people think a referral or prescription is required for evaluation by a physical therapist. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC) allow patients to be evaluated by a physical therapist without a physician’s prior referral.

Myth: Physical therapy is painful.
Fact: Physical therapists seek to minimize pain and discomfort — even if it is chronic or long-term. They work within your pain threshold to help you heal, and restore movement and function. The survey found that 71 percent of people who have never visited a physical therapist think physical therapy is painful. That percentage significantly decreased, however, among patients who had visited a physical therapist within the past year.

Myth: Physical therapy is only for injuries and accidents.
Fact: Physical therapists do a lot more than just stretch or strengthen weak muscles after an injury or surgery. As experts in the way the body moves, they are skilled at evaluating and diagnosing potential problems before they lead to more serious injuries or disabling conditions. Physical therapists help people of all ages and abilities reduce pain, improve or restore mobility, and stay active and fit throughout life.

Myth: Any health care professional can perform physical therapy.
Fact: Although the survey found that 42 percent of consumers are aware that physical therapy can be performed only by a licensed physical therapist, 37 percent still believe that other health care professionals can provide physical therapy. While physical therapists and other health care professionals may perform some treatments that seem similar, physical therapy can be provided only by licensed physical therapists.

Myth: Physical therapy isn’t covered by insurance.
Fact: Most insurance policies cover some form of physical therapy. Beyond insurance coverage, physical therapy has shown to reduce costs by helping people avoid unnecessary imaging scans, surgery and prescription drugs. Physical therapy can also lower costs by helping patients avoid falls or by addressing conditions before they become chronic.

Myth: Surgery is my only option.
Fact: In many cases, physical therapy has been shown to be as effective as surgery in treating a wide range of conditions — from rotator cuff tears and degenerative disk disease to meniscal tears and some forms of knee osteoarthritis. The study found that people who recently have seen a physical therapist know this to be true, with 79 percent believing that physical therapy can be a viable alternative to surgery.

Myth: I can do physical therapy myself.
Fact: The goal of physical therapy is to educate the patient on successful self-care. To accomplish this, however, the expert care and guidance of a licensed physical therapist is required. Your physical therapist’s specialized education and clinical expertise, combined with the latest available evidence and treatment techniques, are critical to evaluating and diagnosing your condition and developing an individualized plan of care.
— American Physical Therapy Association

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