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Fitness & Exercise

Is It Time for Physical Therapy?

What to expect if you start physical therapy for your aches and pains.
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No Quick Fix

There’s evidence that physical therapy can be more effective than surgery for problems such as low back pain.

But avoiding surgery doesn’t mean that you will have it easy or that a few visits to your PT will cure you.

“Very few injuries need surgery. They need time and work,” says Ryan Petering, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Oregon Health and Science University who often refers patients to physical therapists.

“The physical therapist’s job is to teach people how to move better,” Petering says, “And there are things that you will need to do on your own.”

Euype says the exercises he prescribes for his patients - he calls it homework - have to become part of their regular and ongoing routine, even long after the last physical therapy appointment.

“This is life-long,” Euype says. “This is what got you better, but you have to keep doing it. It’s those exercises that keep the pain at bay. Missing a few days is often enough for it to return.”

Euype and Wilmarth acknowledge that this can be a hard pill to swallow, so they work with their patients to come up with a plan that not only fits into their day but that might actually become enjoyable.

“We negotiate with patients,” Euype says. “The key is keeping it simple. I give my patients no more than two to three new exercises per visit.”

How Much Does It Cost?

What insurance covers varies from plan to plan. Some policies will require that you get a referral from a physician in order to get reimbursed.

Euype says that patients need to take into account not only the number of appointments their policy will allow, but how much their co-pay will be. “Some insurance co-payments are very expensive and can dictate the number of visits,” he says.

So it's best to check your policy before making an appointment. That way, you'll know what's covered and what you'll be paying.

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Reviewed on June 17, 2011

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