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What exactly is Physical Therapy?

When you think of physical therapy, what comes to mind? Answers vary, especially as the profession continues to evolve, and the healthcare environment changes. I’d like to discuss what a physical therapist can offer, and dispel myths such as PT standing for “pain and torture.” Physical therapy is an excellent option for those dealing with musculoskeletal issues, which, in the United States, are very common, with 54% of the population reporting chronic musculoskeletal medical conditions ( As Dr. Robert H. Butler, the founder of the National Institute of Aging once said, “If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” Physical therapists are well trained in exercise prescription.

Who Is Appropriate for Physical Therapy?

Physical therapists can help address a variety of conditions, most common being musculoskeletal, including low back pain, arthritis, sprains, strains, and recovery from surgery. PT can also help with ‘prehab,’ helping a person get stronger and more mobile prior to surgery in order to maximize overall outcomes. Physical therapy is not just for those with an injury. If you have difficulty performing the activities you need or love to do, due to pain, reduced strength, mobility, or balance problems, physical therapy can help. In addition, physical therapists can help those dealing with headaches, pelvic pain, neurologic and vestibular conditions, the list goes on.  Physical therapists may have pursued advanced training in managing specific conditions or even be certified as a specialist in, for example, orthopedics, neurology or geriatrics. It is recommended you call a clinic to inquire whether a physical therapist has experience in treating a specific condition, and if a particular clinic is a good fit for you.

How to Access Physical Therapy?

In Colorado, in most cases, you can make an appointment to see a physical therapist without a referral from an MD. Physical therapists are trained to screen for conditions that are not appropriate for physical therapy, and refer to a physician when indicated. In some cases a referral to another healthcare provider may be indicated if you have been participating in physical therapy but are not improving, and need to pursue other treatment options, in which case your physical therapist can be a resource for you and your primary care physician.

What Does a Physical Therapy Visit Include?

You will have a subjective exam in order to understand your history, overall health status, goals, and address your questions. A physical examination typically includes a hands on component as well as assessing your performance of various movements. Each subsequent visit will include a discussion of your program, and reassessment of specific measurements in order to monitor progress. Treatment often includes some form of manual intervention such as manipulation, mobilization and/or soft tissue work.  You will also receive targeted exercise instruction and subsequent progressions based on your performance and gains made. Finally, your sessions include education to help you understand and know how to manage your symptoms, feel confident moving forward, and have the resources you may need for self management.

While rehabilitation from an injury and learning new movement strategies often requires hard work, physical therapists attempt to reduce pain in order to improve function and the ability to move, not cause more of it. Exercise and conservative care are a great first line of treatment not only for musculoskeletal issues, but for the health of the entire body.  Seeing a physical therapist can be an empowering experience for those looking for assistance to move and feel better, increase self-efficacy, and make changes that will provide long term gains. There are many skilled physical therapists in the Evergreen area. There are also many online resources with information about what physical therapy has to offer. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us !

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