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5 Major Myths About Physical Therapy

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

The PT profession has evolved immensely over the last 20+ years. And while older ways of thinking may have called these myths true… but nowadays, things have changed. Here are the top 5 I commonly hear.

1. I need a doctor’s referral to get physical therapy.

MOSTLY MYTH! 47 of 50 states in the US now allow you to see a physical therapist DIRECTLY without a referral. The only small catch is there may be some provisions, like a limited timeframe or amount of visits. In California, you can go straight to a physical therapist without having seen an MD first for 12 visit or 45 days (whichever happens first). After that, you’ll need to check in with your doctor to get a referral for continued therapy. 

Why is direct access a good thing?

It cuts the cost and time of seeing your primary care physician or specialist! We’ve all experienced waiting 3 weeks for an appointment…it’s like we’re expected to predict when we’ll get sick or injured to see the doc, then add an extra 2+ weeks waiting time to get into the clinic. By the time your first actual appointment rolls around, it’s likely you’re well into compensatory movements, inflammation, pain, whatever. And chances are, if you are in need of a specialist to follow your case, your PT can refer you to the right one.


Check out the APTA’s map to see where your state stands.

2. Physical therapy is painful.

Myth. Physical therapist are trained to work within your pain threshold. Too much discomfort can actually cause your recovery process to regress. Our goal is to help you restore function, improve mobility, and improve strength. We teach you how to understand your pain, and how to deduce what your body is trying to tell you. 

3. Physical therapy is just massage.

Myth! False! Falso! Wrong! No way! While massage and soft tissue mobilization overlap in some ways, physical therapy is much more than that. PT’s have Master’s and Doctorate degrees in the anatomy, physiology and biomechanics of the human body. I’m not kidding when I say we’ve learned how to mobilize just about every single joint in the body. Exercise prescription is one of our most valuable skills. Did you know there’s a difference on load in the shoulder between doing tricep dips vs. a tricep cable pull down? Did you know people with biceps tendinitis will almost always do better with one and not the other version? 

Beyond that, PT’s are also trained in a wide range of skills, from recognizing systemic conditions that can be masked as musculoskeletal pain to building a sports conditioning and performance program. 

4. Physical therapy is only for musculoskeletal injuries.

Myth! Going off of the last answer, while injuries are commonly treated by physical therapist and a large part of the patient caseload, it is not ONLY for injuries. PT can also be used for for injury prevention, gait (walk/run pattern) analysis, concussion management, vestibular rehabilitation, cardiac rehabilitation, stroke rehabilitation, even pediatric development! If it has to do with moving in any way, shape, or form…PT can help. 

5. Surgery is the only option for me.

Myth! No! There have been many research studies that show physical therapy has been AS EFFECTIVE in treating conditions as surgery, if not better! Some examples include rotator cuff tears, meniscal tears, plica syndrome, and back pain due to degenerative disc disease. Thankfully, an APTA survey found 79% of people believe PT can provide an alternative to surgery. If surgery DOES end up being the option, a bout of pre-op physical therapy has been shown to improve post-op care by almost 30 percent!

Have you heard a myth about PT you are wondering is fact or fiction? Ask in the comments below!

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