Erika Sandell-Savor, a physical therapist with the Institute for Athletic Medicine, says it’s a myth that physical therapy is only for people who’ve had a serious injury or surgery. It can help the majority of typical muscle and joint problems.
“There are, of course, times when pain is more serious and requires a doctor’s involvement. We are trained to recognize that,” Erika says. “But say you hurt your knee at your league softball game, or are wondering why your left shoulder has always felt sore after you work out: We can help.”
When a person experiences muscle or joint pain, their first inclination may be to schedule an appointment with their primary care doctor. You might be prescribed a pain reliever and be encouraged to come back in a couple of weeks to recheck your symptoms. If you go to an orthopedic specialist, you could get X-rays or an MRI, which are valuable tests but can be expensive.
Erika suggests giving physical therapy a try first.
How it works
Physical therapists are musculoskeletal experts. They are trained to recognize and pinpoint what’s causing a muscle or joint issue. Their passion is teaching patients how to heal and manage the issue, as well as prevent the discomfort from returning.
“Our goal with physical therapy is to actively heal your ailment in as few sessions as possible and help you independently manage your symptoms,” Erika says. “It’s a cost-effective option to manage pain, compared to experimenting with medication doses or scheduling regular appointments where pain is mostly treated, but not prevented.”
At a first appointment, the physical therapist listens to you; they want to understand the discomfort you’re experiencing and the lifestyle you want to maintain. Then they guide you through exercises and perform treatments that can help relieve and heal your issue. They also make sure you understand how to repeat the exercises on your own.
At a next session, you’ll discuss your progress. If you don’t think your issue is improving, they’ll adjust your exercises, the same way a doctor can adjust the dose of a prescription medication. Therapists may spend up to 40 minutes with you at each appointment — ample time to provide you with customized care. Most non-surgical issues are resolved within four or five sessions.
“Patients receive customized exercises to keep their bodies feeling like they should: pain-free. In the majority of cases, we can help patients achieve that outcome without the need for medication, injections, or too many visits.”
The sooner, the better
Whether you recently started having pain or it’s been bugging you for a while, don’t try to just power through it.
“Physical therapy is both restorative and preventative,” Erika says. “Letting a muscle or joint issue linger today could require a more expensive treatment or even surgery in the future.”
Here are some other myths about physical therapy Erika would like to bust.
I’ll need a doctor’s order or referral to see a physical therapist.
Most people don’t. Government-based insurance programs require a referral. But for the majority of people with insurance plans that cover physical therapy, referrals are not necessary. Check with your individual plan for details.
Physical therapy is just exercises, and I can find those online.
Physical therapy is a treatment program the therapist guides you through, and you'll also receive exercises and self-treatment options to repeat at home. You may be able to find exercises to help your condition online. But having a physical therapist oversee your program is essential, so you’re doing what’s right for your situation, with the right number of repetitions, in the right sequence over time.
Physical therapy is painful.
Depending on what’s being treated, physical therapy is often NOT painful and is meant to reduce pain.
Physical therapy takes a long time.
Most people are seen an average of four to five visits. For your convenience, the Institute of Athletic Medicine has 30 locations open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and some locations have Saturday hours.
Physical therapy is expensive.
Most insurance plans in Minnesota cover physical therapy. The Institute for Athletic Medicine staff will work with you to make sure you see value in every visit.
I need a specialist, so a physical therapist can’t help me.
The Institute for Athletic Medicine has board-certified experts that specialize in treating many different areas of the body (shoulders and elbows, neck and back, hand therapy, the lower extremities) and in therapy needed for certain activities (running, throwing, cycling, golf, and dance).
Physical therapy won’t help me because I need surgery.
Physical therapy is often helpful in preventing surgery. But if surgery is inevitable, physical therapy before surgery can improve your recovery. “Prehab” can increase range of motion and strength, allowing the patient to heal more quickly and with less pain than people who don’t have therapy before surgery.
Call 612-672-7100 to make an appointment, or click to request a personal consultation with one of our experts