This article was written by Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, CMTPT and published in northernvirginiamag.com.
Most people have heard the term “physical therapist,” yet when asked, they can’t answer the question, “What is physical therapy?” After 20 years in this field, I can honestly say that I still love what I do, and I’m excited to share my profession with you. I want to address some common misconceptions about physical therapy and provide information to help you get the care you need.
1. Who do physical therapists treat and why?
Physical therapists care for people of all ages in hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, schools, home health agencies, sports and fitness facilities, nursing homes and work settings. Physical therapists often consult with other health professionals to work to improve your mobility.
2. What types of problems can a physical therapist treat?
Physical therapists can help you regain flexibility, joint range of motion, strength, endurance and balance after an injury, accident, illness or surgery. We can also help you minimize the risk of injury by designing an exercise program for you, and we can help you manage a chronic health condition like diabetes, arthritis or fibromyalgia.
3. What kind of degree do physical therapists have?
All physical therapists are currently required to receive a graduate degree–either a master’s degree or a clinical doctorate—from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure examination that allows them to practice. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices. Most physical therapists have a four-year undergraduate degree and a three-year Master’s or Doctorate level degree.
4. Do I need to see my doctor before scheduling physical therapy?
In Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, patients can access physical therapy directly. This means that you can call a physical therapist to schedule an appointment for an initial evaluation without having a doctor’s visit first. We will review your medical history and conduct a very thorough physical exam at your first visit. If the results of our examination lead us to believe that you need to consult with another healthcare professional, we will refer you to the appropriate provider. Studies show that early access to physical therapy positively affects outcomes, so if you are injured, you may be able to schedule a physical therapy appointment to start treatment without waiting for an appointment with a specialist.
5. How do I know if I should see a physical therapist?
If you have pain or discomfort that limits your daily activities like taking off a shirt overhead, fastening your bra, walking up and down stairs or getting in and out of the car, you may benefit from a physical therapy consultation. If you have nagging pain that prevents you from doing activities you enjoy, we can help you determine the underlying cause for your pain, and help you get on the road to recovery. If you have an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, neck or back pain, or painful shoulder, we can help you through early evaluation and treatment before your injury becomes a chronic problem.
6. What should I expect at my first appointment?
You may be asked to fill out paperwork prior to your first visit. This helps your physical therapist in understanding your past medical history, and informs us of surgeries you have had and medications you take. You may be asked to change into a gown or shorts and a tank top. Your physical therapist will have a conversation with you to review your history and your reason for seeking treatment; then, he/she will conduct a thorough physical examination. Your physical therapist will discuss the findings from the exam, and explain the plan of care to you. You may receive treatment on the first visit depending on time. I spend one hour with all of my patients, and conduct all aspects of the evaluation and treatment myself. Some clinics utilize other staff to oversee the exercise portion of treatment. Our goal is always to find the source of your problem and provide treatment to get you moving again in as short a time as possible. These are just some of the ways that a physical therapist can help you return to your active lifestyle.
To Contact Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, CMTPT use www.prana-pt.com