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by Michael Velsmid, DPT, MS

Ever wonder what there is to know about physical therapy that you don’t already know? We bet you’ll find at least a thing or two in this list – Top 10 Things You May Not Know About Physical Therapy:

10. Physical therapists work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practices, home health agencies, schools, nursing homes, and even the Emergency Room

9. Just as there are many different settings to receive PT, there are many different types of physical therapy as well. These include, but are not limited to, orthopedic, acute care, post-operative care, cardiovascular and pulmonary rehab, pediatric PT, lymphedema management, wound care, and neurologic rehabilitation.

8. Physical therapists can treat vertigo! Positional vertigo, when you experience very brief bouts of dizziness with changes in position or movement of the head, is the most common cause of dizziness. It is a dysfunction of the vestibular system in the inner ear, and can successfully be treated in as little as one session with a physical therapist.

7. Physical therapists hold advanced degrees. We are shocked at the number of people who are surprised when they find out that our physical therapists hold a Doctorate degree. Many years ago, one could practice physical therapy with a bachelor’s degree. However, our scope of practice and knowledge of medicine has grown tremendously in the last few decades that most graduate programs offer an entry-level 3-year Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Physical therapists must pass a medical board exam in order to obtain their license to practice as a PT.

6. Many states have Direct Access to physical therapy. This means that you can be evaluated and treated by a physical therapist without seeing your doctor first. One of those states is Massachusetts! Although some insurance companies still require a referral from a Primary Care Physician, overall we are able to get our patients in faster and get them started on the road to recovery right away.

5. Physical therapists alone cannot diminish your symptoms. When treating patients, we often wish we had a magic wand to wave over an ailing body part. Unfortunately, we cannot perform magic. Physical therapy is successful when the patient and the therapist work as a team to create a treatment plan and home exercise program in order to meet the patient’s goals.

4. If you tell your physical therapist that an exercise is easy, we will adapt your program to continue to challenge you. If you tell your physical therapist that you can’t perform an activity, we will find a way to ensure that you can.

3. When a physical therapist tells you they are going to massage a muscle, do not expect a nice relaxing massage you get at the spa. Massage performed in therapy works to decrease tightness and tone and to improve tissue mobility of a specific muscle that may be inflamed or the source of joint pain.

2. “No Pain, No Gain” does not always hold true. While it does hold true in treatment of some diagnoses (e.g. working on range of motion after a knee replacement or rehabbing a frozen shoulder), most of the time, treatments and exercises should be relatively pain-free. If being treated for low back pain or an overuse injury in a tendon, you want to stay away from certain movements or positions that may aggravate the condition.

1. Yes, it really IS important to follow your home-exercise program! There is a reason that your PT puts in the time and effort into designing a home exercise program specifically for you. If you don’t follow their recommendation during therapy or after you are discharged, be prepared to spend lots of quality time with your therapist, because you will be seeing them again and again for the same problem.

Dr. Velsmid is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine