This is a common question we get - “Should I see my doctor first?” Most of the time the answer to this question is actually no, you don’t need to!
You can see a physical therapist without a doctor's referral (or recommendation, blessing, ect). In North Carolina we have unrestricted direct access which means it’s actually the law that you can go straight to a PT without an MD referral.
This is great for quite a few reasons!
#1 It will save you time and money.
Most of the time doctors are going to take x-rays which research shows really shouldn’t be used unless there is some type of trauma such as a car accident, fall ect. This means getting an x-ray is an unnecessary test that you will be billed for.
You will have to schedule the appointment with your doctor, potentially waiting 2 or more weeks for the appointment (oh and how often is the doctor running late and you have to wait an extra 10-60 minutes to even be seen) only for them to likely refer you to PT anyways.
Don’t forget about that copay you may have to even see the doctor as well!
By going straight to the PT you can forgo the extra money you’ll spend on the visit & the x-ray and save the time of even going to the appointment.
#2 PT’s are trained to identify more serious conditions
Many people say that they need to see their doctor first to rule out anything serious. I get it! There are a lot of scary conditions out there. However we as PTs have the training to identify things that don’t quite line up with a true musculoskeletal issue and we won’t hesitate to tell you when you do need to see a doctor. This is also important because we can then communicate with your provider about what we found and our concerns, ensuring that everyone on the healthcare team is on the same page.
If we feel you do need further imaging such as an x-ray or MRI, while we can’t order those tests, we can recommend that you talk to your doctor about getting one. However it is important to know that findings on images do not always correlate with symptoms.
I also think it’s important to point out here exactly the training that is involved in becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy. We go to school for 7 years total in order to obtain this degree (4 years of undergrad and 3 years of PT school). During PT school we learn in depth anatomy, physiology, pathology & biomechanics. We’re also trained in identifying subjective and objective symptoms that correlate to more serious medical conditions.
I think many times people don’t understand the level of medical training that we go through and think that we just glorified personal trainers (and I don’t blame them for not knowing, that’s why we’re writing this blog! Also this not to say anything against personal trainers, we know some great ones!)
#3 You can start feeling better sooner
Because you didn’t have to wait 2 weeks to see your doctor and then another week to get into PT and you went straight to the PT you’re already 3 weeks (or more) ahead! The sooner you get started on PT the sooner you can understand exactly what is going on, get some pain relief and get started on exercises and stretches to help you feel better.
Now if you’ve already seen your doctor and they recommend various follow up tests, we absolutely want you to follow up with your doctor, however that doesn't mean that you can’t still see a PT in the meantime in order to start feeling better! I think this is especially important when it comes to pelvic floor conditions as many times there are a lot of lifestyle changes that can be addressed that will significantly help you with your symptoms ( and again, we’ll let you know if we think there is something more serious going on!)
Many times a PT is going to tell you things that the doctor isn’t going to simply because we have different training. Medical doctors are trained in identifying just that, medical conditions and ruling out serious pathology. Many doctors also don’t even fully understand what physical therapists do and the scope of what we treat. A physical therapist can help you identify lifestyle factors & movement impairments and generally has more time to spend with you than the doctor in order to put all these pieces together.
So the next time you have an ache or pain we highly encourage you to see a PT first! We always offer free discovery calls with a member of our team so you can learn more about how we can help you! Just CONTACT US today to get started!