When to See a Physical Therapist: Top 3 signs

We all know some of the obvious signs that it’s time to see a physical therapist: major sports injuries, recoveries from major surgeries, chronic pain conditions, etc. However, what about those not-so-obvious injuries, dysfunctions, or aches and pains?

These judgement calls aren’t always easy, especially as we age and don’t recover quite as well as we did when we were younger. In our view, there are three common warning signs that it’s time to see a physical therapist.

It’s time to see a physical therapist when:

  1. You have been in pain for more than a couple of weeks
  2. Your mobility has been limited for more than a couple of weeks
  3. Your pain is limiting your quality of life

In this article, we’ll expand on what we mean by each of these three points, and hopefully help you to discern whether you should get a professional involved in your physical recovery.

When to go to a physical therapist

1. You’ve been in pain for more than a couple weeks

This is a guideline we recommend to many of our patients in consultations and/or initial evaluations. Most of us know that if we roll an ankle while running or tweak our back picking up a heavy box, we can rest the area, perform basic stretches, and recover within a few weeks.

This is where the “two week rule” originated from. It’s true that most basic physical injuries will resolve on their own within a week or two. However, if the pain lasts longer than a couple of weeks, it may be a sign that something more significant has happened.

Getting a physical therapist involved is an excellent way to get expert guidance on how to deliberately recover from your injury using targeted therapeutic exercises. Additionally, can speed up your recovery by utilizing modalities like manual therapy, electrical stimulation, or dry needling that the average person doesn’t have access to.

2. Your range of motion has been limited for more than a couple of weeks

This, of course, builds on the first point. Sometimes pain secedes but some element of our physical injury lingers. This can be in the form of a dysfunctional movement pattern we’ve adopted as a result of our injury, or a simple lack of mobility in the joints involved that lingers longer than the pain does.

We recommend that even if your pain has reduced dramatically, you see a physical therapist if you find that your joint mobility or basic flexibility isn’t what it was before the injury (for clarification, see the difference between mobility and flexibility here).

It’s common for a dysfunctional movement pattern to result in pain or discomfort down the line, and sometimes in parts of the body that weren’t even involved in the original injury.

This is why we recommend that you seek physical therapy services after a couple of weeks even if your pain has gone away.

A man with neck pain from sleeping wrong.

3. Your pain is limiting your quality of life

One blanket point we’d like to make across the board is this – if your pain, lack of mobility, or any other dysfunction is affecting the quality of your daily life, you really have nothing to lose by getting a physical therapist involved.

While it’s true that we lose muscle strength and flexibility as we age, we don’t want to lose these things in large chunks as a result of injury or lifestyle change. Additionally, we want to mitigate the effects that aging has on our physical condition for as long as possible.

A licensed physical therapist can help with both of these issues, using their expertise to help you restore function while simultaneously helping you develop strategies to be healthy and prevent injury going forward.

Options if you don’t want to see a physical therapist

If, for some reason, you don’t want to (or can’t) schedule an appointment with a physical therapist, or your schedule doesn’t allow it, we’ve written elsewhere on the pros and cons of DIY physical therapy. In many cases, it is possible to follow treatment plans from home, if coming to the clinic two to three days per week isn’t an option for you.

One point we would raise is that physical therapy isn’t as expensive as it seems, especially when compared to other options, and physical therapy tends to work very well over the long term. Whether you’re visiting us in the clinic three times per week or you’re just planning to check in for consults, it’s still generally advisable to have a physical therapist working with you.

Beyond the obvious

As stated above, we all know when we have to see a physical therapist. Serious injuries are typically more obvious, and sometimes a primary care provider has provided us with a referral for physical therapy. Our goal in this article is to help you see beyond the obvious.

The great thing is that in today’s day and age, it’s possible to see a physical therapist without a referral, and it typically doesn’t cost nearly as much as waiting until we need direct intervention through invasive surgeries or expensive medications.

Feel free to give us a call or fill out our contact form if you’d like to discuss options or request a consultation to determine if physical therapy is a good option for you!

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