Have you ever wondered if you needed physical therapy? Chances are, YES! Physical therapy covers so much more than the average person is aware of, from ankle sprains to headaches to neurological disorders. Physical therapy can treat (or try to treat ) any bone, joint, muscle, tendon, ligament, cartilage, nerve, disc in the body from head to toe and front to back. Physical therapy is considered a conservative approach to healing, management, and/or prevention of an injury or ailment. Physical therapists concentrate on improving the patient’s abilities through decreasing or relieving pain, restoring normal movement in the body through strengthening of postural awareness, education on proper body mechanics and ergonomics while considering the patient’s overall fitness and wellness.

Some people are probably wondering if they need to see their doctor first, well that depends on your health insurance company. North Carolina is a Direct Access state, meaning if your company allows it, you do not need a physician’s referral to start physical therapy (sorry Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare patients — that does not apply to you). Physical Therapists are trained to recognize what is and what is not appropriate for therapy, and will refer you to your physician if needed. If you are in need of physical therapy (meaning musculoskeletal cause of pain) then your therapist is licensed to evaluate and treat as needed.

Here are a few things to consider in determining if you should see a PT:

-A specific or traumatic event. Whether you were exercising or cleaning the house, a traumatic injury can occur. If you notice swelling or bruising that lasts longer than normal (see below), you should probably see a physical therapist.

-Pain that lasts longer than a week even with resting and icing. When you first notice an onset of pain, the best idea is to rest and take a few days off from that activity. It is also recommended to apply an ice pack (with towel or wrapping to protect your skin — don’t cause frostbite!) for 20 minutes per day to ease pain and decrease inflammation. If you have behaved yourself and followed the above recommendations and still have pain, it is time to see a physical therapist.

-Meds don’t control the pain. If you have tried over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain relief drugs (either herbal or prescription) and have not noticed any change in pain, then it is probably in your best interest to get it checked out by a physical therapist.

– Recurring/chronic pain. Most pains will decrease or diminish with rest, ice or meds (for those of you that actually abide by that), but if you have pain that keeps coming back for more than three months then it’s time to stop being stubborn and ask for help from a physical therapist.

– Pain is sharp/stabbing or with numbness/tingling. Dull, achy pain can be normal after strenuous or new activities, but shooting pain or numbness/tingling is not normal (especially shooting down the arms or legs). Everyone has felt their foot fall asleep when sitting or their hand asleep from sleeping in awkward position from time to time — that’s okay. However, if that sensation persists or occures frequently it’s time to get to your favorite (or soon to be favorite) physical therapist for assistance.

The North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Association website is a great resource for diagnoses and to a find/locate a physical therapist in your area.

image via Boston Public Library