You ran a 5k fundraiser and wake up the next day with a sharp pain in your knee. You take ibuprofen and rest for a day, but the pain still lingers. What should you do?
While many people might wait until the pain worsens over a week or more and then go see a physician, it turns out that going straight to a physical therapist can help – and keep an injury from getting worse.
“In most cases nagging pain and soft tissue injuries are best managed by a physical therapist,” says Eric Chaconas, a practicing physical therapist in St. Augustine and associate professor at Bellin College.
What’s more – you can go to straight to a PT. Currently, 47 states – including Florida – allow people to see a physical therapist without a physician referral.
“Rehabilitation through PT is a great option to avoid painful surgery or drugs that only mask the pain,” Chaconas says, noting that a “physical therapy first” approach is often used in the U.S. military and in many countries with advanced health care systems because it leads to better health outcomes and cost savings.
Muscle atrophy and nerve changes can start happening quickly after an injury, meaning that getting physical therapy right away can equip people with the right treatment and tools to recover faster and fully.
“The faster someone can reduce medication usage and participate in an active recovery process, the better,” says Chaconas.
In fact, multiple recent studies have shown that early physical therapy treatment for neck, knee or back pain greatly reduces the odds of needing opioids or other medical interventions like surgery.
And according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with a torn meniscus and moderate arthritis who received physical therapy recovered at the same level as those who received surgery.
So, what should you expect from your first PT visit?
“Gone are the days of ‘no pain no gain,’” says Chaconas. “Today’s practice of physical therapy should only make you feel better. Physical therapists aim to get to the root of the painful condition. People should expect a thorough evaluation and lots of education on why the injury or pain is occurring, as well as a plan of action to help the body recover and move better.”
Physical therapists are trained at the doctoral level, Chaconas says, noting, “At a minimum, a physical therapist will be able to tell you if the condition warrants referral to another provider for more testing.”
If you’re struggling with muscle pain, whether it’s been nagging you for months or just began, seeing a physical therapist will put you on the road to recovery.
To find a physical therapist practicing near you, visit https://www.ptforpain.org/find-a-pt.