Seven Questions About Physical Therapy, Answered

Physical therapists are movement experts. Not only do they help individuals reduce pain, but they actively improve and restore mobility and help people stay active throughout their lifespans.

Physical therapy is an excellent way to achieve both your recovery and health and fitness goals. Despite remarkable results from physical therapy on a regular basis, physical therapy has somewhat developed a reputation as only necessary for injuries and accidents. That can be very painful! 

In order to combat these myths and provide clarity on the subject, below are some common questions and answers about physical therapy, all in the name of helping you start living your healthiest, happiest life. Let’s dive in.

What is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists are holistic, evidence-based medical providers with expertise in the movement and musculoskeletal system. They work to identify and treat joint, muscle and movement abnormalities. Physical therapy as a whole is a leader in utilizing evidence-based assessments and treatment techniques to help patients attain their goals without having to undergo surgeries and without heavily relying on pharmaceuticals. A win-win!

What Exactly Does a Physical Therapist Do? 

A session with a physical therapist typically consists of assessment, hands-on treatment (dry needling, joint manipulation, soft tissue mobilization) and patient-specific exercises to help the patient achieve their goals. A session may also include conversation surrounding footwear, ergonomics, posture, fitness habits and routines, and identifying other factors contributing to pain or movement abnormalities that may be non-musculoskeletal. 

When Do I Know it’s Time to Go See a Physical Therapist? 

At Skyterra, we encourage you to choose physical therapy and choose it soon! From current research we know that in many cases, the longer an issue persists, the longer it can take to heal. While this does not mean you need to rush to your physical therapist every time you have a minor injury, if you have an injury or nagging pain that persists beyond one to two weeks, we encourage you to see a trusted physical therapist to evaluate and treat the issue. An injury that is not disrupting and limiting your daily routines will often heal on its own. 

If an injury is more severe and is disrupting everyday living (i.e. you are losing sleep, you have lessened strength, you are experiencing intense radiating pain, numbness or tingling, and/or your walking or running is impacted), go see your physical therapist within one to five days. In this case, a quality physical therapist will:

  • evaluate and treat the issue if it is something they can improve on their own or
  • evaluate, provide any treatment necessary, and identify this is an issue that may be more serious. They will refer you to a physician, urgent care or specialist. 

Why Should I Try Physical Therapy at Skyterra? 

If you haven’t already heard, we have a reputation at Skyterra for meeting you where you are! This concept holds true in your physical therapy consult. No consult looks the same because every single session is tailored specifically to each individual client. A typical consult includes an evaluation, dry needling if indicated, and a home plan specific to meet client needs. 

Some guests seek physical therapy at Skyterra for a second opinion in regard to orthopedic issues that may or may not require surgical interventions. Your consult is what you want it to be. You bring your specific questions or concerns and we will determine a course of action best suited for you. 

As the physical therapist at Skyterra, Dr. Lee Patillo will strive to meet you where you are at with an evidence-based evaluation, treatment and education that empowers you to get better and stay better. When physical therapy is performed optimally, many clients have great success from just one visit while at Skyterra. While he cannot guarantee everyone will see success in just one visit, Lee can guarantee that his approach is to help people make improvements in as few sessions as possible by empowering them to take their health into their own hands. 

How Do I Know if I Should Have Surgery or See a Physical Therapist? 

If you have never seen a physical therapist and are told you need to have surgery, we highly recommend seeing a physical therapist for another perspective. Having a second opinion in the medical world is vital to see all angles and possibilities for the origin of the issue and treatment. A physical therapist is a great resource to use in conjunction with an orthopedic surgeon or orthopedic specialist. 

There are many success stories where surgery is avoided after receiving physical therapy. For example, arthritis and muscle weakness are strongly correlated. In many cases, addressing muscle weakness can alleviate joint pain and prevent joint replacements altogether.

If you explore the CDC Recommendations for Arthritis, it includes strength training and exercise as prevention and course of treatment. This may be a simple or obvious concept to some, but often surprises people that moving, and strengthening are some of the best forms of treatment for many. You will also find many insurance companies require physical therapy as the first line of defense before covering an MRI or surgery. 

Physical therapists can provide preventative treatments as well. If you or someone you know needs to get stronger or work on balance and stability, a physical therapist is a great resource and highly trained to help you do both. Like finding a doctor or buying a new car, shop around and find the therapist that is the right fit for you!

How Do I Go About Making My First Appointment with a Physical Therapist? 

Most physical therapists have a clinical doctorate allowing the professional to see patients with direct access. This means that as a healthcare consumer, you do not need a referral from a physician and can go directly to a physical therapist to receive an evaluation and hands-on care. 

Even so, some insurance companies do require a physician referral to deem your care medically necessary. Your physical therapist can typically send an evaluation note to your primary care physician or request a referral for you. 

Another option is to work with a physical therapist outside of insurance or to seek out a physical therapist that does not work with insurance. In many cases, this can simplify the process of seeing a physical therapist altogether.

How Do I Find a Good Physical Therapist?

This may be the most challenging part, but there are many wonderful physical therapists out there. When choosing, be sure to review the physical therapist’s or clinic’s website. Look for reviews and ask around in your network for recommendations from family, friends, or coworkers. 

If you are a Medicare beneficiary, finding a good physical therapist may be a bit easier. With Medicare, a licensed physical therapist must work with you one-on-one if your care is deemed medically necessary and your insurance foots the bill. Some procedures such as dry needling are not covered by Medicare, but in many cases, are absolutely worth paying out of pocket for. 

If you are thinking of visiting a large physical therapy chain, we encourage you to call ahead and ask these simple questions:

  1. How often do patients typically come in for physical therapy? If they inform you that everyone comes in two to three times a week, this could be a red flag. Not everyone needs to come in that often or even has to do more than three sessions overall to begin with. A better answer is, “It depends on the patient. Some people come in for one or two and others may need more consistency.” 
  2. Will I work one-on-one with the therapist the entire time? The answer to this question should be a firm and simple yes. If it is anything other than yes, this could be another red flag. 

For those that are utilizing commercial insurance or private insurance, finding a good physical therapist can be a little more challenging. Depending on your insurance, it is actually legal for a physical therapist to work with three to four clients in the same hour and bill everyone’s insurance. This unfortunately is the business model of many large physical therapy chain franchises. You will likely not receive quality care in this model. 

The other unfortunate reality is you may get hit with a surprise insurance bill months down the road. Check to see what your deductible is, and what your copay is, and try to get a clear idea of how much each session will cost. If you will be paying more than a $50 copay, we would recommend working with a physical therapist that does not bill insurance. You will likely pay about the same and get a higher quality of care! 

If you are in this category, ask the following simple questions:

  1. Have I, or will I meet my deductible? Ask yourself or your insurance company.
  2. How much is my copay? Look on your insurance card, online, or ask the physical therapy clinic front office. Once you meet your deductible, you will likely still be paying a copay or coinsurance.  
  3. How many sessions are typically needed? If the clinic has a generic answer of two to three sessions per week, this may not be the clinic for you.
  4. Will I be working one-on-one with my PT the entire time? The answer should be a simple firm yes. 

Please reach out if you have any further questions about physical therapy at Skyterra and beyond. We are happy to help you learn more, as our ultimate goal is always to help you feel better. Click here to learn more about Dr. Lee Patillo and the physical therapy we offer at Skyterra. Click here to schedule your first appointment.