Seeing a physical therapist first will save you time and money while helping you avoid unnecessary tests and interventions
Every October, physical therapists around the country come together to celebrate National Physical Therapy Month. The purpose of this annual campaign is to highlight the many ways that physical therapy can benefit individuals of all ages and ability levels with an individualized approach to treatment. In honor of these efforts, we’d like to discuss a few of the key reasons why seeing a physical therapist first for any sort of pain is always the best treatment decision that you can make.
For anyone that encounters pain or gets injured, relief often becomes the number one priority. There are many treatment options available to address painful issues, and it may be difficult to determine which approach is best for you. But regardless of your condition or its severity, one universal truth applies: trying physical therapy first is a smart move that will usually help you avoid other unnecessary tests and treatments down the road.
Physical therapy is not a magical cure-all that will immediately fix any physical problem, but it does have an incredibly wide range of applications and is appropriate for the vast majority of painful conditions. Every physical therapy treatment program is individually tailored with each patient’s abilities and goals in mind, and by carefully guiding them with exercises and movement-based techniques, significant improvements can usually during treatment and upon discharge.
Physical therapy vs. surgery, injections, and opioids
Other commonly used treatment options for pain include surgery, injections, and prescription medications like opioids, but research continuously shows that physical therapy is a superior option that will save patients money and time while leading to similar—if not superior—outcomes.
For example, one study showed that physical therapy was just as effective as surgery in the midterm and long term for reducing pain and improving function and flexibility in patients with various tendon disorders. Similarly, another study found only minimal differences after five years between patients treated surgically compared to those who had physical therapy for ACL tears. Surgery has great value that can often lead to positive outcomes, and it may be necessary in certain situations, but it does come with some potential downsides as well. These include high costs, long recovery times, and risks associated with the procedure. Physical therapy, on the other hand, is universally regarded as an affordable, safe intervention with minimal to no associated risks.
Physical therapy can also help patients avoid taking prescription drugs like opioids, which are a significant problem in the country today due to alarmingly high rates of addiction, overdose, and death. One study of 454 patients with low back pain found that those who participated in physical therapy had a lower chance of being prescribed opioids in the following year, while another found that those who saw a physical therapist early were 33% less likely to use narcotic analgesics like opioids and 50% less likely to receive non-surgical invasive procedures than patients who did not.
Do Not Wait if You Have Pain – It’s Likely to Cost You Money
The earlier a patient sees a physical therapist, the more likely they will be to experience positive outcomes with lower overall healthcare costs. This is exemplified in other research, in which 308 patients with neck pain were divided into different groups depending on when they consulted a physical therapist: early (within 14 days), delayed (15-90 days), or late (91-364 days). Results showed that early physical therapy was associated with an average savings of $2,172 on healthcare costs over one year compared to late physical therapy, as well as a lower risk for patients being prescribed opioids, having a spinal injection, or undergoing an imaging test.
Physical therapy in hospitals associated with higher costs
Avoiding the hospital for elective reasons like surgery will further lower costs for patients, as receiving physical therapy in a hospital is typically lower than when it is received at a clinic or office. One study compared these costs, and results showed that the average prices were 41% higher for therapeutic exercises and 64% higher for manual (hands-on) therapy in a hospital than a community setting. A 15-minute session of manual therapy, for example, was an average of $58 in a hospital versus $35 in a clinic.
On top of all of this, you can see a physical therapist much sooner than your primary care doctor and many other healthcare professionals. While it could take several days, weeks, or longer to get an appointment with many healthcare professionals, many physical therapy practices can schedule in as soon as the next day. This yields further dividends, since the sooner you see a physical therapist, the better your outcome will be.
With this in mind, if you’re currently dealing with a painful condition of any sort, we strongly recommend seeing us before consulting with your primary care doctor. We can quickly identify the source of your problem and get you started on a tailor-made treatment program right away that factors in your needs, abilities, goals, and preferences.