9 Common Myths About Physical Therapy

February 19, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Jessica Tallini, DPT contributes to topics such as Physical Rehabilitation .

When many people think about physical therapy (PT), they think of exercises and stretches designed to treat injuries. But the fact is that exercises and stretches to treat injuries are only one component of physical therapy.

“Physical therapists care for patients with all types of concerns, including stroke, brain injuries, balance issues, neuromuscular conditions, orthopedic problems, spinal cord injuries and more,” says Jessica Tallini, DPT, a physical therapist at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute.

Here are a few common myths and facts commonly shared about physical therapy:

  1. Myth: PT is a “waste of time.”

Fact: Physical therapy is an effective treatment for many conditions and can help to:

    • Reduce or eliminate pain
    • Delay or avoid surgery
    • Improve mobility
    • Reduce risks for falls
    • Maximize movement
    • Recover from and/or prevent future injuries

 However, successful treatment depends on setting appropriate goals and the patient’s level of effort in the clinic and at home.

“Nothing will happen overnight — progress takes time, which can be frustrating,” says Dr. Tallini. “In an outpatient setting, patients are usually seen two to three times per week, so to achieve optimal results, patients need to work on the home exercises we give them at home as well.”

  1. Myth: You have to be in pain to benefit from PT.

Fact: There are many reasons to go to PT, and being in pain is just one of the symptoms physical therapists treat.

“Some of our patients are in pain, but many experience conditions such as generalized weakness, endurance concerns, dizziness, stiffness, neurological problems or difficulty with range of motion,” shares Dr. Tallini.

  1. Myth: Insurance doesn’t cover PT.

Fact: Most medical insurances include PT benefits, although the number of covered visits may vary.

“We work with patients to understand their insurance coverage and work within the number of covered visits to achieve their goals,” says Dr. Tallini.

  1. Myth: I need a specialist referral for PT.

Fact: Referrals are required for some PT practices and insurance companies, but they can come from any medical provider, including a primary care provider.

  1. Myth: Physical therapists will tell you to stop doing the activities you love.

Fact: Physical therapists understand the benefits of exercise and other favorite hobbies for physical and mental well-being, and their goal is to help patients resume the activities they love. If you are experiencing an acute injury, it may be necessary to limit a particular activity until the injury fully heals. However, your physical therapist will suggest alternative activities to promote ongoing fitness.

“If a runner has a knee injury, for example, we might recommend swimming, yoga or water aerobics until appropriate strength and healing is achieved,” comments Dr. Tallini.

  1. Myth: Any health care provider can offer physical therapy.

Fact: Other health care providers might be able to give you a few general exercise suggestions, but a physical therapist will perform a detailed assessment of your condition and provide a treatment plan tailored to your goals, your body and your needs.

“Instead of wasting time with generalized exercises that aren’t right for your body and your condition, seeing a physical therapist can help you achieve your goals as efficiently and safely as possible,” says Dr. Tallini.

  1. Myth: A physical therapist is the same as a personal trainer.

Fact: Physical therapists are highly trained and many hold Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees. Many physical therapists have additional certifications in stroke, orthopedic, neurological, geriatric, vestibular, Parkinson’s disease or lymphedema care.

“Physical therapists are continually learning, pursuing additional certification opportunities and keeping up with the latest evidence-based treatment techniques,” explains Dr. Tallini. “Although some exercises might look similar to exercises at the gym, we know the right exercises and intensity level to help people recover safely and prevent future injuries.”

  1. Myth: I can’t do vigorous physical exercise, so physical therapy isn’t safe.

Fact: Everyone of any fitness level can benefit from PT, and a skilled physical therapist can make adjustments to ensure that exercises are safe. Physical therapists can also alter exercises around each patient’s pain level and tolerance.

“I can give patients exercises that can be done in bed, on a chair, at a low intensity or a high intensity, depending on their condition,” says Dr. Tallini. “I also monitor vital signs to ensure that patients are exercising at a safe level.”

  1. Myth: After you’re discharged from physical therapy, you’re healed.

Fact: To help patients stay healthy, manage a chronic condition, and prevent new injuries, physical therapists typically recommend that patients continue to follow an ongoing exercise plan after discharge. Physical therapists will also work with patients to review appropriate body mechanics for performing certain activities, such as bending and lifting.

It is also common for patients to return to physical therapy after discharge, particularly if they are trying to boost endurance over time or have chronic conditions. Other patients may resume exercises when they experience a flare-up of their condition.

“I tell my patients to laminate and hang onto their exercise sheet after they are discharged,” says Dr. Tallini. “That way, they can refer to it if their condition returns and know what do to.”

But here’s the most important fact to remember: If you are managing a chronic condition or are living with pain, you should talk to your health care provider about whether physical therapy might help.

“We get to know our patients, figure out what is going on, come up with a treatment plan based on the patient’s goals,” says Dr. Tallini. “We want to help our patients achieve optimal results, and we’re always here to give a pep talk when needed.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.