Like athletic trainers, physical therapists can perform special tests to determine an accurate diagnosis and have the knowledge to connect multiple systems in the body to treat dysfunction.
One of the best parts about physical therapists is that they are educated to work in nearly any environment while many other healthcare professionals are taught to work in one area (sports or a clinic) or within a more limited scope.
Physical therapists can help to restore walking, work with cancers, wound care, traumatic brain injury, cognitive diseases, and much more.
Additionally, a new program that will enhance patient’s abilities to get an accurate diagnosis is called GetPT1st.
This movement is the idea that patients should consider physical therapy for all musculosketal issues from the very beginning. This would be instead of seeking out a primary care doctor, waiting for a referral, and then scheduling an appointment pushing that accurate diagnosis down the road several more weeks.
The website supporting the movement, GetPT1st claims that seeing a physical therapist first can reduce rehabilitation time (avoidance of seeing primary care first, waiting for appointments, etc.), reduce costs (often times imaging scans are unnecessary and do not help the physical therapist give a more accurate diagnosis), and encourage better individual outcomes.
Above all, this level of care is most recommended because they are often the most accessible (as physical therapists are in almost every industry), educated, and cost reducing service for getting an accurate back pain diagnosis.
If you are unsure of the resources available to you and unaware of the differences – find a physical therapist near you and seek them out.
Primary Care Doctor
The highest level of care, and arguably the highest cost is your primary care doctor (or specialist).
Many people start here, which is great because you most likely have a relationship with this person, the medical history is readily available, and they can refer to whomever you may need down the road.
The problem with this is that you will most likely get an accurate diagnosis for back pain, but you are running the risk of missing out on the correct treatment plan.
Also, you are accepting that medications and imaging and seeing a specialist are a lot more likely that pursuing athletic training or physical therapy right out of the gates. Understanding the culture that comes with the care is important in not only getting an accurate diagnosis but a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment for your individual needs.
What Should You Do?
To summarize all of this information you should understand what your values are and what is available to you. Start by answering these questions:
- What does my health insurance cover and what can I afford?
- What does my company, gym, etc. offer to me for complementary medical attention?
- Do I want to seek out a specific professional or am I ok with trying someone new?
- What are my health values and does that align with any particular kind of provider?
- What am I not willing to do to solve this problem?
Answering these questions should give you a more clear understanding of where to begin and even more importantly, where to stop.
I am personally more conservative in my health and prefer lifestyle changes over medications and treatments. This means that I am willing to exercise, stretch, and alter my diet to reduce symptoms of an injury and avoid surgery and medication if possible. On the other side of the spectrum there are people out there who want to see their primary care doctor and get imaging, see a specialist, and use medication – that is ok.
My main point is that getting an accurate back pain diagnosis may be a process depending on the route you choose and that will impact your treatment and outcome down the road. Work with what is in front of you and the resources that you are familiar with.
Make sure you seek care that educates you on your condition and aligns with your values. The best healthcare professionals provide the resources that you need.