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What is Physical Therapy? Meaning, Preparation, Process, Cost, Etc.

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy (also called Physiotherapy) is a specialty program designed to evaluate, assess, and treat individuals who may have limitations in functional mobility. You don’t need a doctor's recommendation to get physical therapy however, your doctor might recommend getting this treatment after an injury or surgery. The goal of physical therapy (PT) is to help individuals recover safely, and faster, and can prevent future injuries.

Physical Therapy Meaning

Merriam Webster defines Physical Therapy as:

“Therapy for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function impaired or threatened by disease, injury, or disability that utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training.”

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Physical therapists are often referred to as “experts in movement.” This is because, to become a physical therapist, one must obtain a bachelor’s degree and a graduate doctoral degree (DPT). They also have to obtain a state license to be able to practice legally in that state. They undergo extensive schooling, testing, and lab work to become experts in their field, and even when they do they are required to complete continuing education courses.

Physical therapists usually become specialized therapists in their field so they can help clients with specific needs, and goals and help them get back to their normal daily lives and activities.

PTs work in various settings from sports - semi-pro, professional teams, school teams - and fitness (working with athletic trainers and team physicians), to healthcare (hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient or inpatient clinics - Orthopedics, Neurology, Pediatrics, Sports, Pelvic Health, Geriatrics, Hand Therapy - and education (elementary schools, middle school, high school, college), research centers, corporate setting (factory or manufacture) and government agencies.

Physical therapists are professionals licensed by the state to provide physiotherapy to individuals. They are trained to assess the patient's condition and create a fitness and wellness program to help encourage a healthy, active lifestyle, improve movement, and gain their independence back.

Physical Therapists are trained to use a variety of treatment styles and techniques to help the patient heal better and faster. They start by assessing your limitations, abilities, and conditions followed by an evaluation to create a personalized plan tailored to the specific patient. Treatments can be hands-on at a facility or virtual. They will also teach exercises that can be done outside of PT to help with the recovery process, movement, and function.

How To Prepare for Physical Therapy

It can be nerve-racking going into your first physical therapy session. So many questions about what to ask to prepare for PT flying around in your head,

  • What should I expect?

  • What should I wear?

  • What do I need to bring?

Here is a deep dive into some questions you may be wondering about.

1. What Should I Expect During My Evaluation?

Your physical therapist will assess your injury and get an idea at what level you are at testing your; level of strength, range of motion, flexibility, balance, joint mobility, neurological function, pain, cardiac function, pulmonary function, and overall functional mobility.

2. What Questions Should I Expect?

Your physical therapist will ask questions revolving around your injury or surgery such as what happened, how you feel, and questions about your goals, frequency, and length of time.

3. How Often Should I Expect to Attend PT Appointments (Per Week)?

This can vary from patient to patient. If you have a busy schedule discuss this with your physical therapist to find a solution that is best suited to you. This can also depend on the severity of the injury or the reason for you attending PT.

Attending at least one session a week to start is recommended, it could be as much as two or three days a week. The further along you progress through PT, the sessions could become more spread out to biweekly or monthly. It is important to discuss all matters with your doctors and physical therapist to make sure you receive the proper treatment.

4. What Can I Expect During Treatment?

Your physical therapist will use different techniques (heat, ice, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc.) and methods to help with improving strength, balance, flexibility, motion, etc. They will also help with decreasing pain and stiffness.

How Much Does Physical Therapy Cost?

The cost of physical therapy out of pocket can range from $50 - $500 per session. The national average cost for an evaluation ranges from $50 - $400. The national average cost for daily visits (single physical therapy session) ranges from $20 - $200.

There are many factors that can affect the cost of physical therapy. Some factors include location - a hospital setting can be more expensive, duration - days, weeks, months, etc., time - number of sessions, etc.

Having insurance will help cover some of the costs. After meeting your deductible the cost can range anywhere from $20 - $350.

Physical Therapy Cost With Insurance

Depending on your provider, your healthcare plan, length of session, duration, etc., you might be looking at spending anywhere from $50 - $350 or more, however, depending on your insurance carrier there may be no cost out of pocket. There are three key things to look at when considering how insurance will affect your cost.

3 Things to Look At When Considering Insurance:

  1. Check your insurance plan

    1. See if your physical therapy sessions need to count as an “essential benefit” such as preventative and wellness services, managing a chronic condition, and rehabilitative and habilitative services.

  2. Check your deductible

  3. Check your copay

    1. PT isn't covered: You'll pay the rate your insurer set with the physical therapist.

    2. PT is covered: Your insurer pays a percentage of the bill, known as coinsurance.

    3. PT is covered: You pay a flat fee for your visit, known as a copay.

It’s recommended to contact your health insurance provider and confirm with them that your physical therapy will be covered. You should ask additional questions to avoid having a claim denied or being stuck with surprise bills, too.

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