This week's question -
If I get injured, how do I know when to see my doctor vs. my physical therapist vs. neither?
My answer -
Beginning about 10 years ago, Physical Therapy education programs switched from a master's degree to a doctoral degree. Part of this change was surrounding the beginning of legislation called "direct access." This legislation allows someone to directly access care with their physical therapist without first seeing a medical doctor. Although their are different stipulations surrounding this in different states, all states now have some form of direct access and it has been successful at decreasing healing time, decreasing patient costs and improving patient outcomes. When you think about it, most often orthopedics don't administer "treatment" if they are not doing surgery, so the sooner true treatment starts the sooner healing can begin.
With that being said, Physical Therapists began receiving training on how to identify "red flags" or symptoms that would definitely require a trip to the doctor and some imaging, vs just PT.
Athough these red flags can very based on body part, generally they include -
Inability to bear weight on the injured part of the body
Hearing or feeling a loud "snap or crack" during injury
Obvious bony or muscular deformity
Symptoms that are not orthopedic in nature (numbness, loss of bowel or bladder control, heat coming from the area, rashes on the area, etc)
These symptoms don't necessarily mean that PT is the wrong intervention, just that some imaging or further testing may be necessary to rule out more sinister causes.
In the absence of the symptoms above, visiting a PT after an injury is likely a great first step. We are also trained to recognize these symptoms even if you don't, and refer you to a medical doctor if necessary.
Even if you have a minor injury, I usually use the 3 day rule - if you have pain that lasts for more than 3 days at any intensity, you should get it checked out. It is always easier to treat something sooner than later!
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