Recently I’ve been able to have several conversations with physicians about their referral practices to Physical Therapy for patients with acute and chronic low back pain. I must say, I was truly appalled. Waiting 4-5 physician visits before even considering Physical Therapy is borderline unethical care. Honestly, in what world is it ok to withhold care of a qualified health care professional that has been proven to be a first line in the treatment of both acute and chronic low back pain?
I realize part of the problem is a knowledge gap; held by both the referring providers (physicians, chiropractors, dentists, NPs, PAs etc), and the general public of what Physical Therapy actually is, and how beneficial it can be for a large number of people. I aim to help close this knowledge gap to improve access to the profession that I love, and improve outcomes for more patients to live the life they want to live with less pain. Let’s start with a few fun facts that may not be known about Physical Therapy.
“Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience”
This is the vision statement cast by the American Physical Therapy Association- the national governing body of the physical therapy profession. I challenge you to find a similar mindset on healthcare and its relation to the population as a whole. Physical Therapists are the movement experts; we know the musculoskeletal (muscles, bones, and joints) and the neuromuscular system (how the nervous system interacts with the muscle, bones, and joints) better than any other health care provider. We should be, and we deserve to be the front line provider for musculoskeletal pain. A physical therapist is the one you want to see when your knee, shoulder, back, neck, or any other body part are bothering you and impacts your ability to live the life you want to.
Clinical Doctorate Degree
You read that correctly… All Physical Therapists that graduate from an accredited program are now granted a DOCTORATE degree. So when we introduce ourselves as Dr. Last Name, we mean that. To get that degree we spent 7 years in institutions of higher education, often 4 years of undergraduate training with 3 years in graduate school culminating in a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Those 3 years of graduate school are focused intensely on ONE BODY SYSTEM- the musculoskeletal system. We are the healthcare experts that have specialized in human movement and function. We get so much more than the brush over of the musculoskeletal system than medical students receive while trying to learn just as much, and oftentimes more about the remainder of the body systems.
We Specialize Too
To continue with the education theme, physical therapists also have the option to specialize in a certain field of physical therapy, much like a medical doctor that completes a residency after graduation from medical school. In the world of physical therapy these residencies are elective and are gaining popularity with each graduation class. A physical therapist can elect to specialize in any of these 8 areas: Orthopedics, Sports, Women’s Health, Clinical Electrophysiology, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Neurology, and Cardio Pulmonary. Each specialty will have further explanation in the future. These programs last about a year and include intensive one on one mentoring, advanced clinical decision making, patient care, teaching opportunities and often research opportunities all in the name of advancing the profession and providing the best care possible to our patients.
Hopefully I have been able to pique an interest in the field of physical therapy. Stay tuned for more ways to learn about how a Physical Therapist can help you get back to the activities that you love to do with less pain.