When should you see a physical therapist?

Physical therapists are, in basic terms, experts in function and movement of the human body.

While an acute injury, such as a fracture, ACL injury, or dislocation may first require a visit to a physician, chronic conditions such as painful movements of the arm or leg that affect your everyday function, can usually be resolved by a PT who can help identify the problem and develop a treatment plan.  For example, physical therapy is a great way to address chronic ailments such as low back pain, neck pain and/or headaches, ankle sprains, knee pain, arthritis, tennis elbow, or shoulder tendonitis.

Sometimes, a particular problem requires a PT who is a specialist.  PTs are also trained in specialties that include neurological disorders, wound care, geriatrics, pediatrics and women’s health to name a few.  

The ECU Department of Physical Therapy offers a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.  The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Vision 2020 statement indicates that by the year 2020, physical therapists will be DPTs and will be autonomous practitioners. This means that the licensed physical therapist will assume greater responsibility for the treatment of the client, within their scope of practice, and will accept greater accountability for their actions as well.

How do you choose the right physical therapist for your care? APTA offers some guidelines.

  • You have the freedom to choose your own physical therapist. Currently, 46 states, including NC, allow people to go directly to a physical therapist without a physician’s referral. Keep in mind, however, that your insurance may require a visit to the primary care physician first or may limit your access to preferred providers only.
  • Always insist that your physical therapy be provided by a licensed physical therapist, or a physical therapy assistant who is supervised by a licensed PT.
  • Ask the physical therapist’s clinic if it participates with your insurance company and if the clinic will submit claims on your behalf.
  • Your first visit should include an evaluation by the physical therapist to identify current and potential problems. Based on the results of the examination, and considering your specific goals, your PT should design a plan of care detailing what they think is wrong, how they plan to address it, and about how long it should take to see improvement.
  • Your treatment information should be shared with any other healthcare provider or physician as medically necessary for your treatment.
  • You should feel comfortable asking your physical therapist any questions regarding your course of care.

The ECU Department of Physical Therapy operates a PT Clinic that evaluates and treats back and neck pain, tendonitis, sprains and strains, sport-specific and running injuries, herniated discs, arthritis, and provides post-operative rehabilitation for adults and children.

October is National Physical Therapy Month!  To learn more about how PTs can help you get moving again, go to Move Forward-Physical Therapy Brings Motion to Life.  And to learn more about what’s happening in the ECU Department of Physical Therapy:  http://www.ecu.edu/cs-dhs/pt/newsevents.cfm.

Dr. Walter Jenkins, Professor and Chair
ECU Department of Physical Therapy


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