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5 Myths about Physical Therapy Debunked

Written by  OurHealth Staff Writer

Physical therapists help people of all ages and abilities reduce pain, improve or restore mobility, and stay active and fit throughout life. But there are some common misconceptions that can often discourage those who need treatment from accessing physical therapists who specialize in the care people need. 

OurHealth Roanoke & New River Valleys spoke with local physical therapists along with experts from the American Physical Therapy Association to debunk five common myths about the medical specialty.

MYTH: I need a referral from my doctor.

FACT: Referral requirements vary from state to state.

In Virginia, a patient can see a physical therapist (PT) without a referral if the PT has a Direct Access Certification. At Blacksburg Physical Therapy Associates, our PTs are Direct Access Certified by the Virginia Board of Medicine.

MYTH: Any healthcare provider can provide physical therapy.

FACT: Only a licensed physical therapist can administer physical therapy.

Physical therapy is only provided by a licensed PT or a licensed physical therapist assistant (LPTA) under the supervision of a PT. At Blacksburg Physical Therapy, our licensed PTs perform a thorough evaluation of every patient’s condition and apply the most effective therapeutic interventions to help them seamlessly return to their daily activities.

We also use a functional rehabilitation approach that is a unique and innovative treatment philosophy. Utilizing their expertise, our PTs determine areas that need improvement, such as range of motion, strength, flexibility, coordination of movement, balance, and/or biomechanics of walking or running. Then, with specialized techniques, backed by scientific evidence-based medicine, our PTs help normalize deficiencies to decrease pain and improve function. We take great pride and satisfaction in helping our patients realize exceptional results in their path to recovery.

Cindy Henderson PT, DPT, ATC, FAFS
Blacksburg Physical Therapy Associates
Blacksburg | 540.951.2703

MYTH: Physical therapy is only used to help patients rehabilitate from surgery.

FACT: There are many conditions and injuries that can be effectively treated using physical therapy intervention and exercises instead of surgery.

In fact, statistics show that if pain and injury associated with a condition are addressed upon onset with a medical exam, followed by an evaluation for physical therapy, the necessity for surgical procedures is often reduced if not mitigated.

Physical therapy intervention and exercise programs developed by a skilled therapist are created to address the individual needs of the patient for improved quality of health and physical outcomes. These programs target specific muscle groups to improve strength, endurance and conditioning. Targeting the area of injury with tailored exercises promotes increased blood flow, which facilitates healing and recovery.

Once recovery has been realized, it is beneficial to continue with the specific exercises or a home exercise program developed by a skilled therapist to reduce the chance of re-injury.

Christi Nicely, OTR/L, MHA, Director of Therapy
Brandon Oaks Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
Roanoke | 540.776.2616

MYTH: Inpatient physical rehabilitation is just the first step toward a long-term care facility.

FACT: The goal of inpatient physical rehabilitation is to maximize patients’ physical function and return them to their home and daily routine.

This is a common misconception for newcomers to any inpatient rehabilitation within a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). Most SNFs have different levels of care. For instance, at Friendship Health – Rehab North’s campus, we offer three levels of care: inpatient rehabilitation, long-term care, and specialized memory care.

Most patients are admitted to inpatient physical rehabilitation for the first time after a traumatic event, such as a hip fracture or stroke. Friendship Health’s inpatient rehab includes specialized orthopedics, cardiac, and neuro-muscular care for those recovering from a knee or hip replacement, heart attack, or stroke. Understanding these key differences in levels of care ahead of time can make an unfortunate situation a lot less stressful. 

At Friendship Health, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide intensive and evidence-based rehabilitation services required to transition our short-term skilled rehab patients back home quickly.

Diane Bell, COTA/L, Director of Rehab Services
Friendship Health
Roanoke | 540.265.2100

MYTH: Physical therapy is painful.

FACT: PTs seek to minimize every patient’s pain and discomfort—including chronic or long-term pain.

PTs work within a patient’s pain threshold to help each heal and restore movement and function. A survey conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association found that although 71 percent of people who have never visited a PT think physical therapy is painful, that number significantly decreases among patients who have seen a PT in the past year.

- American Physical Therapy Association

MYTH: Physical therapy isn't covered by insurance.

FACT: Most insurance policies cover some form of physical therapy.

Beyond insurance coverage, physical therapy has proven to reduce costs by helping people avoid unnecessary imaging scans, surgery, or prescription drugs. Physical therapy can also lower costs by helping patients avoid falls or by addressing conditions before they become chronic.

- American Physical Therapy Association