4 signs you need to see a physical therapist

When was the last time you heard about someone being excited to go to physical therapy? People don’t want to go, but they know that it’s a must for recovery. Sometimes the need is immediate.

There’s a pop in your calf, or you bang your shoulder going for a rebound and can’t lift your arm. Sometimes there’s a delay in making an appointment, but the pain is apparent and too much to ignore. 

For other problems, physical therapy is never a consideration. The pain is low-level and accepted as something to live with, or it isn’t an issue at all. But with both, physical therapists play a role in eliminating problems and preventing them from occurring or reoccurring. If that sounds like a new concept, that’s exactly the point.

Here are four reasons to see a physical therapist that you likely haven’t thought about, until now.

1. You’re modifying activity.

The pain doesn’t necessarily prevent you from anything, but you’re expecting a sore back so you cut back on golf. “You’re not debilitated. You’re making small compromises,” says Graeme Lauriston, vice president of physical therapy at EXOS. But people will still resist seeing a physical therapist because they associate pain with surgery, and they want no part of that. What people don’t understand is that in many cases the pain might not be that complex, and the cause isn’t what it seems. For example, your lower back might be the spot that’s sore, but it’s your hip or knee that’s the root. “It’s regional interdependence, and a physical therapist can assess the situation and craft a plan to address the problem,” says Lauriston.

2. You’re starting a new workout routine or training for a race.

Physical therapy can also be used to reduce your risk of sustaining an injury. It’s called prehab, says Brianna Musco, a performance physical therapist at EXOS, and it prepares your body to take on a new intensity. Marathon training means constant pounding. Tennis requires regular rotation. Even if you work out, the body isn’t prepared to handle that stress. Tissue will break down and turn quickly into pain, says Lauriston. A physical therapist can determine weak areas and show you how to shore them up before an issue arises.

3. You’re taking longer to recover.

Experiencing soreness shouldn’t be a surprise after a hard bike ride or skiing for the first time in the season, but it should dissipate before it disappears within a few days. However, routine activities shouldn’t cause pain at all, much less pain that lasts for a week. Unless there’s a reasonable explanation, there’s more going on that could involve a muscle, tendon, ligament, or joint.

4. You’re waking up sore.

Sleeping isn’t a stressful activity. If it takes your body time to warm up in the morning and there’s no reasonable explanation, such as new, intense physical activity, it could be sign of something more. “A healthy body shouldn’t be waking up like that,” Lauriston says. “It could be your sleep position, mattress or pillow, or something you’re doing during the day, and a physical therapist can help you find out what it is.”

Think you need physical therapy? Find a therapist near you.

About the Author

Steve Calechman

Steve Calechman is a Boston-based writer and longtime contributing editor for Men's Health.

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