7 Misconceptions About Seeing a Doctor of Physical Therapy…

About the Author: Dr. Scott Gray

Dr. Scott Gray is the Owner of Back in Motion Physical Therapy & Performance. Each and Every Week He Helps His Clients & Patients Live Their Life to the Fullest, Get Active, and Get Pain-Free.
Categories: Physical Therapy


You've been battling persistent pain, stiffness, or an injury that just won't let go. Despite seeking advice from doctors and relying on painkillers for temporary relief, your condition lingers, and you're feeling frustrated. The time and money spent on failed solutions are taking a toll on you.

The thought of trying physical therapy has crossed your mind. You've heard whispers that it can provide permanent, safe, and natural relief from your woes. However, you've also stumbled upon a few myths that have cast doubt on whether physical therapy is the right path, especially after investing so much in previous treatments.

But falling prey to these physical therapy myths can be a roadblock preventing you from achieving the lasting relief you desperately seek. Ignorance in this case can indeed hurt you, as delaying treatment or sticking to ineffective remedies can worsen your condition. Even a seemingly minor issue, left unattended, can escalate into debilitating injury or chronic pain, potentially necessitating surgery – a scenario no one desires.

So, let's dispel these seven most common physical therapy myths once and for all. By doing so, people like you can finally access the permanent treatment they deserve.

Myth #1: You Need a Referral for Physical Therapy

Depending on your insurance plan, it may seem like you need a referral to see any healthcare professional. Here's the good news: that's not the case for physical therapy. In all 50 states, direct access legislation allows you to consult a physical therapist directly, without requiring a doctor's referral, regardless of your insurance provider. This means fewer trips to the doctor's office and no need to pay for a referral.

Additionally, it grants you the freedom to choose the best physical therapist for your specific needs, without being limited to a particular network. Most insurance plans cover at least a portion of the cost of physical therapy. Opt for a physical therapist who specializes in your particular issue, such as a spine specialist for lower back pain. Remember, a physical therapist is an expert in movement, physical injuries, and pain, ensuring you receive a more accurate diagnosis and superior treatment compared to your regular doctor.

Myth #2: A Physical Therapist Doesn't Have More Training Than a Personal Trainer

Some individuals mistakenly equate personal trainers with physical therapists, assuming they offer similar services. However, they are fundamentally different.

First, let's explore the disparity in education and training:

  • Personal trainers are not required to hold certifications, although the best ones are NSCA certified.
  • In contrast, all physical therapists in the United States must hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, backed by continuous hands-on training.
  • Personal trainers do not need formal training to provide their services, while physical therapists must complete a rigorous seven-year educational journey at a college or university.

Furthermore, their roles differ significantly:

  • Personal trainers focus on helping clients achieve fitness goals, guiding them through cardio and strength training exercises tailored to weight loss, toning, or enhanced speed.
  • Physical therapists specialize in preventing and treating pain, stiffness, and injuries, with a mission to restore and maintain motion.

While personal trainers lack the expertise to assist clients in recovering from physical injuries, they can refer them to capable physical therapists, and vice versa. A physical therapist may not specialize in achieving specific fitness goals like weight loss, but they can recommend an excellent personal trainer who can.

Myth #3: You Can Only Visit a Physical Therapist if You Are Already Hurt

Chances are, if you're reading this, you're currently grappling with pain or an injury. However, you may be among the fortunate few who are not experiencing these issues. For this select group, physical therapy can be a proactive form of preventive medicine rather than a reactive treatment.

Many people mistakenly believe that physical therapists exclusively help individuals recover from injuries, neglecting their role in injury prevention. This assumption couldn't be further from the truth. While physical therapists effectively treat a wide array of injuries and conditions, they are equally adept at injury prevention.

Physical therapists possess the expertise to identify potential weaknesses, such as muscular imbalances, technique problems, or areas of tightness, and then work to strengthen those areas, reducing the risk of injury. Physical therapy is also a valuable option for addressing conditions like balance disorders, tension headaches, pinched nerves, and pelvic pain or disorders.

Myth #4: Physical Therapy is Just a Series of Exercises You Can Do at Home

You might have heard that people undergoing physical therapy are simply given a set of exercises to perform at home. While it's true that you'll likely engage in exercises tailored to your specific goals, an excellent physical therapist offers more than just take-home routines.

Research indicates that the most effective physical therapy programs for common injuries, such as knee pain, combine exercise-based treatments with manual therapy. Manual therapy involves a physical therapist using their hands or specialized tools to re-mobilize joints, alleviate pain, reduce stiffness, or make spinal adjustments.

Receiving this combination of treatments from a physical therapist leads to faster recovery. Moreover, a physical therapist ensures that you perform exercises correctly, preventing the potential harm that may result from improper execution. Many individuals attempting at-home treatments inadvertently exacerbate their condition by selecting the wrong exercises or executing them incorrectly.

Myth #5: Physical Therapy is Painful

Physical therapy should never cause pain, unless you are specifically undergoing a treatment like deep tissue massage. If you experience any pain during your physical therapy sessions, it's crucial to communicate this to your physical therapist. The primary aim of physical therapy is to alleviate pain and restore you to a state of symptom

Myth #6: Bed Rest and Painkillers Are More Effective

This is perhaps the most perilous myth among the ones we've discussed. It often circulates when non-specialist doctors, like primary care physicians, prescribe painkillers and advise bed rest. However, physical therapists, specialists in pain management and injury prevention and treatment, offer a different perspective.

While painkillers and bed rest can provide short-term relief by masking symptoms, they do not address the underlying issue contributing to your pain or injury. Consequently, they do not offer a long-term solution. Relying on painkillers and rest can weaken your muscles, making you more susceptible to severe injuries in the future. Moreover, dependence and addiction can develop among patients who continually rely on painkillers.

Although painkillers and bed rest may seem cost-effective initially, they can ultimately lead to significantly higher expenses over time if your condition worsens. In such cases, expensive and invasive surgery may become necessary. Opting for physical therapy offers a cause-based treatment that can permanently alleviate your problem, making it a wiser investment in the long run.

Myth #7: All Physical Therapists Provide the Same Treatments

It's crucial to conduct research before selecting a physical therapist because not all physical therapists are alike. Some may have more years of experience, extensive training, and positive patient testimonials.

Choosing the right physical therapist is essential. Look for one who specializes in your specific issue, whether it's back pain, sports injuries, or another condition. Privately owned physical therapy clinics often feature physical therapists with more experience in treating specific injuries. Consequently, you may require fewer visits compared to a hospital-based clinic.


Now that we've dispelled these common physical therapy myths, you have a clearer understanding of what to expect when pursuing physical therapy as a solution for your pain, stiffness, or injury. Remember that physical therapy is a direct-access service, allowing you to consult a physical therapist without the need for a doctor's referral, offering convenience and flexibility in choosing your specialist.

Physical therapists undergo extensive training and possess a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, ensuring they are well-equipped to diagnose and treat various conditions effectively. Their expertise extends beyond post-injury care, as they can also help you prevent injuries through targeted programs.

Physical therapy is not solely about performing exercises at home. It encompasses a combination of exercise-based treatments and manual therapy, with the guidance of a trained professional who monitors your progress to ensure you're performing exercises correctly.

Contrary to the belief that physical therapy is painful, it should never cause pain. Soreness within 48 hours of trying new exercises is common but should not be painful. Your physical therapist will always check for discomfort during treatment, ensuring your safety and comfort.

Finally, while painkillers and bed rest may provide temporary relief, they do not address the root cause of your pain or injury and can lead to more significant problems in the long run. Selecting the right physical therapist who specializes in your specific issue is crucial to achieving lasting relief and recovery.

Now that these myths have been debunked, you can confidently seek the best treatment available to address your pain or injury. The physical therapists at Back In Motion specialize in injury prevention and treatment, helping countless individuals regain pain-free motion. So, why wait? Schedule your appointment today by calling our office at 239-610-5132 and take the first step towards a pain-free future. We have 4 convenient locations in SWFL including a physical therapy clinic in Cape Coral.

“Physical Therapy, Fitness, & Performance Tips From Dr. Scott & the Back in Motion Team”