When Physical Therapy Can Help
Can Physical Therapy Prevent Injury?
But PT isn't just for the wounded. Many clinics offer preventive evaluations to determine muscle weaknesses or other imbalances that could lead to injury. If a problem is identified, the therapist will provide exercises to keep an issue like tight hamstrings from turning into something more serious, such as a hamstring tear. "Most injuries are the result of long-standing weaknesses," says Kim Wallace, vice president of clinical operations for Excel Physical Therapy and Fitness in Philadelphia. "Correcting those problems now can save you a lot of stress and money later." Indeed, in one study, PT reduced ACL injuries by 41 percent.
If you can't touch your toes or complete a deep squat without pain, you should definitely consider making an appointment, says Kyle Kiesel, PhD, associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Indiana at Evansville. These are often signs of an underlying problem, such as tight hamstrings or underdeveloped glutes.
How much will you have to shell out for all of this rehab? According to the therapists we spoke to, an initial visit can run from $75 to $250, depending on the clinic and where you live; follow-up visits average $85 to $110. What you'll actually pay depends on insurance. "Physical therapy is a basic benefit of almost all plans; most companies cover from 50 to 80 percent of the visit after the patient copay, which is usually $5 to $40 per session," says Richard S. Katz, chairperson of the payment policy committee of the California Physical Therapy Association. Insurers can also cap the number of visits allowed, sometimes paying for as few as four for a minor injury.
Part of the discrepancy in coverage is that many insurance companies underestimate the effectiveness of PT. Slowly the perception is changing. A bill recently introduced in Congress increases access to therapy services for Medicare beneficiaries by removing the need for a physician's referral, something that many state laws have already allowed. The physical therapy community is also lobbying insurers to expand coverage, reduce out-of-pocket patient costs, and pay for treatment without a doctor's referral.
Theresa Barnes, 34, an avid runner in Indianapolis, needed a referral to physical therapy after pain in her right hip made her daily workout impossible. By the time she called her doctor, "the pain was so bad that just going to the supermarket was difficult," Theresa says. During her evaluation the therapist discovered that her hip muscles were significantly underdeveloped. Enter: Three months of squats, ball taps, and leg lifts. Today, Theresa is strong and healthy. "I'm enjoying running a lot more now," she says. "Had I known how quickly physical therapy would get me back on my feet, I would never have waited so long to go."
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