In Celebration of National Physical Therapy Month

When do you need an MD? When do you need a PT?

In today’s world most of us have family doctors, internists, eye doctors, dermatologists.

Sometimes we get sick and need to consult a physician to find out the nature of our illness, but sometimes if we have minor symptoms, such as a cold, or stomach upset, we may not need to spend our time and money visiting a physician. We can just as well talk to a nurse practitioner or other health practitioners in whom we have confidence.

Many of us are active people who walk, or run, play tennis, soccer, basketball, baseball, to stay healthy and to enjoy ourselves. When we have serious injuries to our musculo/skeletal system, a bone broken, for instance or pain that increases in its intensity or our joints become red and swollen, we consult an orthopedist.  And rightly so.

But if we have lesser injuries, aches and pains, discomfort, tension in our muscles, tendons or joints, we need to have our own physical therapist to consult; someone who is knowledgeable and responsible to evaluate our problem and to know if he or she can handle the problem or refer us to a medical doctor.

Too often, we do just the opposite. In the case of musculo/skeletal problems, we visit the doctor first. It can take weeks to secure an appointment. More likely than not the doctor will then ask for X-rays or MRI’s and then render an opinion to rest the injury, or give cortisone injections which can slow down our recovery time for the original injury even though it gives us some immediate relief. At the last, the doctor may advise us to undertake physical therapy. But because of this lengthy process, we have lost weeks of healing treatment.

A patient came to me after having spent three weeks waiting to see his orthopedist who then ordered an MRI after which he had to wait for the results and consultation with the doctor. The recommendation was for physical therapy. This took five weeks of his time, energy and money in co-payments. After three weeks in physical therapy we solved the problem.

Why waste time? Why do dozens of tests and pay unnecessary fees? The sooner you start physical therapy treatment the faster you are returned to physical health.

I tell my patients to consult their general practitioner or internist before they get sick so that the doctor is acquainted with them as a person, and can give them basic tests and see them regularly after that to follow up and help keep them healthy. Sometimes the doctor will pick up on something important that the patient did not even know existed and treat the condition before it becomes a problem. Patients will also be able to evaluate the physician they have chosen. Did they get a full examination? Or was it minimal? Did the doctor spend enough time with them asking questions, taking a detailed history? Or were they in and out in very little time?

It is the same with physical therapists. Go to see a physical therapist before you have an injury. The therapist will do an evaluation of your body and sometimes even see a problem before you are complaining of pain or discomfort. You will have established a working relationship with the physical therapist who will feel more able to help you when and if you are in need of his care and treatment. As with a physician, a physical therapist should be adept at an evaluation of your body and when you are treated, spend a minimum of 30 minutes hands on therapy and at least another 15 minutes using various modalities that aid healing.

Americans often have little information about physical therapy, its possibilities and responsibilities. You do not need a prescription to see a physical therapist. Once you do, the physical therapist is proscribed by law from taking cases that are not within his purview and must and will refer you elsewhere. This is safe medicine for all concerned.

So, my advice to you is to evaluate your pain or injury and decide: do I really need to see a medical doctor or can my physical therapist evaluate this problem and help me? You will be in good hands either way. It’s up to you to make the best decision in your own behalf.