Physical therapy focuses on the evaluation, management and prevention of disorders of human motion. As such, a visit with a physical therapist can lead to effective treatment for restoring mobility.
Brandon Dirk, a Sanford Health physical therapist in Bismarck, North Dakota, who specializes in orthopedics and sports-related injuries, answers frequently asked questions about why physical therapy can be an important healing tool.
What does a physical therapist do?
Physical therapists evaluate and treat people with a variety of injuries and impairments including helping people improve their range of motion and their strength. They can help reduce pain and improve patients’ ability to walk, run, jump – whatever it takes to help them get back to reaching their goals.
What can physical therapy help with?
Physical therapy helps people meet their physical goals. That goal might mean getting better at walking or running or playing sports. It can be about being able to get out of bed or getting out of a chair or improving any kind of functional impairments.
Physical therapy can help people rehabilitate after surgery. In general, it can help anyone who comes in with an injury or an impairment. They can come directly to us, and we can evaluate them and help them reach their goals.
Are there different types of physical therapists?
There are quite a few different types:
- Acute care. You have acute care therapists in the hospital helping people to be able to move after a variety of different types of injuries or conditions.
- Rehabilitation. There are also rehab facilities for people who are dealing with the effects of strokes or traumatic brain injuries.
- Orthpedic. There are orthopedic therapists for people who have had injuries or are dealing with pain in the joints, muscles, tendons or nervous system.
- Women’s. There is women’s health therapy to help with many ailments such as pelvic pain, back pain during pregnancy or problems with incontinence.
- Sports. There are sports therapists to help athletes to return to sport and activity.
- Hydrotherapy. There are therapists that focus on hydrotherapy – for people who improve strength, motion and function in the pool.
- Neurological and vestibular. We also have outpatient neuro therapy – for people who have had falls or neurological impairments or injuries – and vestibular therapy for people who have dizziness or vertigo symptoms.
What types of pain, injuries or conditions should be a signal that you should visit a physical therapist?
I’d say anytime someone is unhappy with their function they should seek a physical therapist. Anytime someone is dealing with something that they physically want help with, they could be a candidate for physical therapy.
If someone is struggling due to pain or injury, they should see a therapist. If someone’s dealing with pain that they didn’t have before or a pain that they want to get help with, they could see a therapist. If they used to be able to walk comfortably and now they can’t, or want help in getting out of a chair or are dealing with any functional impairments, they can seek out a therapist to help guide them.
How is physical therapy different from seeing a chiropractor or getting a massage or those sorts of things?
I can’t really speak to what people do in other professions, but physical therapists work with soft tissues and soft-tissue mobilization types of massage. It’s in our practice to do manipulations or what we call grade-five mobilizations, which are high-velocity, low-amplitude mobilizations. It would be like cracking your back, so to speak, though that’s not the terminology we use.
We also focus on helping people to be able to help themselves. We want to teach patients what they should be doing to help guide themselves to recovery. We teach them how to best be able to help themselves in the future. Learned helplessness can be a problem with people who have been dealing with things for a long time.
Ultimately, we want to provide hope. We want to provide them the tools to be able to do what they need to do to increase their function, reduce their pain and improve their well-being.
If I’m not a Sanford patient already, can I still go see a Sanford clinician to get physical therapy services?
We see anyone who comes through our doors. You can be referred by a Sanford physician or you can be referred by physicians outside of Sanford. In North Dakota, we are a direct access state, which means that referrals are not required to see a physical therapist.
Certain insurances require a referral for reimbursement so that would be something you’d want to check, but many private insurances do not need a referral.
If you do not require a referral for reimbursement, you can just call right up and schedule an appointment with the therapist at Sanford. If your insurance does require a referral, then you can speak to your doctor and see if they’ll enter a referral for you.
Do I need to pay a copay?
Every insurance and situation is different. I’d advise to check with your insurance.
Is physical therapy covered by my insurance?
I would say almost all insurances cover physical therapy. A lot are now based on medical necessity where there’s not a visit limit. Some insurances have a visit limit. That’s something that you can check on in advance or call the front desk to see if they have information for you. There are different plans with different rules but most cover physical therapy.
What’s rewarding about your job as a physical therapist?
The cool thing about my job is to be able to physically – but also mentally and emotionally – help people through some trying times.
They’re struggling physically, obviously, and they need guidance on that. But sometimes they need somebody to walk with them and guide them. It’s very rewarding to be able to help people through difficult times in their lives and then see them later being able to meet their goals and do the great things they want to do.
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