Why You Should Get Physical Therapy First

healthcare physical therapy Mar 16, 2023

By: Molly King


Ouch! That hurts!  It’s your back, your ankle, your knee.  Your next step will make all the difference when it comes to recovering from your orthopedic injury.  That next step should be to see your physical therapist.

Physical therapist?  Shouldn’t it be my primary care doctor or an orthopedic surgeon?  Aren’t they the experts?   In the next few minutes, we’ll outline why you should get physical therapy first when you experience an orthopedic injury.


Conservative Management Works

Did you know that the vast majority of orthopedic pain resolves with conservative treatment?  If conservative treatment (and we’re not talking the generic rest, heat/ice, ibuprofen routine that your primary care provider will prescribe) is the most effective course of action, you need to see the conservative care expert.  Believe it or not, this isn’t your orthopedic surgeon.  While orthopedic surgeons play a vital role in orthopedic healthcare, the only tools in their arsenal are surgery, injections, and medications.  Clinical practice guidelines recommend that these treatment options be used only after conservative care has been exhausted.  Fortunately, your doctor of physical therapy has a full toolbox of treatment techniques and resources to address your pain and keep it away long term, without the side effects and risks of invasive treatments.


Get Better Faster

By starting with your doctor of physical therapy, you get on the road to recovery right away.  Doesn’t that sound better than waiting around for your ice pack to work or for a specialist referral?  Your physical therapist will evaluate AND treat you at your very first session!  Not only will you leave your appointment feeling better, you’ll also be prescribed a home program so that you can continue to improve between sessions. 

Studies have shown that patients who start with physical therapy first return to work, sports, and recreational activities days or even weeks faster than those who start with another healthcare provider.  In addition, they have fewer physical therapy and medical appointments than those who wait.  In most areas, you can see your physical therapist sooner than other primary care or specialist providers, often within a few days.  Better yet, you don’t need a referral for your initial physical therapy evaluation – you have direct access to physical therapy in all 50 states.


Get Better Long Term

Getting better faster is great, but preventing future bouts of pain is what really matters.  Most traditional pain treatments treat the symptom (pain), but don’t treat the cause of your pain.  For example, pain medications block pain, but don’t touch what is causing your pain.  Steroids (oral medications or injections) stop inflammation, but don’t address why the inflammation is there in the first place.  While these treatments may make you feel better in the short term, without addressing the cause of the pain, you’re likely to experience that pain again. 

Physical therapy helps you get to the root of your pain – what is actually causing it – and provides you with the skills and resources to continue addressing the root cause long after your pain is gone and you’ve finished physical therapy.  By putting the knowledge and power back in your hands, you can prevent the pain from returning!


Save Money

Healthcare spending is out of control, and much of it is due to unnecessary appointments, tests, and procedures.  Compared to those who start their care with a physical therapist, those who see their primary care provider first are much more likely to be referred to another specialist ($$), undergo medical imaging ($$$), be prescribed medication ($), or undergo an invasive treatment like injections or surgery ($$$$). 

We also have to consider the non-medical costs.  What is the time spent in appointments worth?  What about your lost productivity at work or home?  Your inability to travel or participate in social activities?  Putting your recreational activities on pause?  The detrimental health effects of being less active?  While it can be harder to put a dollar amount on these problems, they still cost you – financially, physically, and mentally.  


Want to learn more about how getting physical therapy first can help with your pain or injury?  Check out these research studies below!  Can’t find what you’re looking for?  Contact Dr. Molly at [email protected] and she’ll be happy to help you find resources for your specific concern. 


Neck & Back Pain

Neck & Back Pain:

Neck Pain: 

Non-Specific Low Back Pain

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Low back pain & financials


Lower Body Injury

Knee Osteoarthritis

Total Knee Replacement

Hip & Knee Osteoarthritis

Meniscus Tear

Meniscus Tear


Upper Body Injury

Subacromial impingement

Upper Extremity Injury Triage

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome



Imaging, Referral, Medication prescription:



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