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What does it mean to have direct access to physical therapy?

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Physical therapy is a doctoring profession, meaning they have the highest level of education in their field of practice. They are THE movement specialists in the medical field.

It's been challenging for physical therapists to break out of the shadow of Medical Doctors and become the first point of access for those with movement disorders. All states recognize physical therapists as valuable providers and allow direct access in some form. Colorado has had unrestricted direct access since 1989. This means you do not need a referral from a physician to see a physical therapist in Colorado, or many of the other states with unrestricted direct access.

Because PT's are the movement experts, they should be your first point of contact when you have a physical injury. Research has shown when physical therapists are seen first, recovery is quicker, the cost of care is dramatically reduced, and likelihood of receiving an opioid prescription or unnecessary imaging (X-Rays or MRIs) from a physician is minimized.

Physical therapists know how to scan for red flags - signs that would indicate something more sinister is occurring, like cancer, pressure on peripheral nerves, or central nervous system issues. If you see a physical therapist and they find something concerning, they will let you know to get in contact with your primary care physician.

When symptoms are addressed quickly, recovery comes quickly. When symptoms become chronic, solving the problem can be a lot more challenging. Most physicians and physical therapists don't know how to treat chronic pain, which leads to a lot of confusion for the patient, over-prescription of medications that make the nervous system more sensitive with prolonged use, and unnecessary suffering.

Therapeutic pain specialists are unique in their ability to assess and treat chronic pain. This is a specialization that is relatively new and the understanding backing this approach to chronic pain care is rapidly increasing. Don't hesitate to reach out and begin your healing journey immediately.

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