Are you popping ibuprofen for your aching back and haven’t seen a doctor? Did you try to schedule with your doctor but can’t get in for weeks? Go directly to your physical therapist! The state of California allows direct access to physical therapy, which means that you can legally be treated by your licensed physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician. Physical therapists are experts in pain relief, movement improvement, and restoration of your active life. They treat people of all ages and abilities. You can heal faster and save money by seeing a physical therapist first.
What is Direct Access?
Since 2015, all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, recognize the safety and benefits of direct access and allow patients to seek treatment from a licensed physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician. California law permits patients to initiate physical therapy and continue treatment for up to 45 days or 12 treatment visits, whichever occurs first. The rationale for this is that many musculoskeletal conditions are successfully treated within 12 or fewer visits. If your condition requires treatment beyond this time frame, then your physical therapist may either forward a plan a care to obtain a signature approving additional visits or refer you to a physician for evaluation.
There are many factors that delay healing. You might notice or acknowledge a condition only after it becomes increasingly painful and keeps you from your daily activities. This is especially common with repetitive motion and overuse injuries for which the onset is insidious. You might search online in attempt to self-diagnose your problem. And once you decide to seek help, you often have to wait – sometimes weeks – to been seen by a physician while your pain and the underlying condition can worsen. Further unnecessary delays can occur while waiting for x-rays or other diagnostic imaging, the results of which might not reveal the source of your pain.
Direct access to physical therapy allows you to begin an effective treatment plan customized to your individual needs, challenges, and goals. Your therapist can identify, diagnose, and treat movement problems – and quickly help alleviate your pain. Early physical therapy has been shown to be as effective as surgery for several conditions, including low back pain from spinal stenosis1 or degenerative disc disease2, meniscal tears and osteoarthritis in the knee3, and non-traumatic rotator cuff tears.4
Physical therapy is non-invasive, making it the best first choice for many people. It’s also safer and more effective than opioid pain medications, especially for chronic pain. Choosing treatment with a physical therapist allows you to feel better, faster.
Research has shown that early access to evidence-based physical therapy can significantly lower the cost of care for many patients. One award-winning study that reviewed more than 120,000 military health system records revealed 60% lower total costs of care for low back pain patients who had received early physical therapy.5 These patients also were far less likely to need advanced imaging, spinal injections or surgery, and were less likely to use opioid drugs. Another study found that initial treatment with prescription pain medications increased the cost of low back pain treatment.6
Direct access to physical therapy resulted in fewer required treatments sessions and overall lower costs, according to a study that compared self-referral (direct access) to physician-referral in nearly 63,000 cases.7
Are you ready to heal faster and save money? Call Sports Conditioning and Rehabilitation today at 714-633-7227 for a free consultation with one of our highly qualified and caring clinical experts!
- Delitto A, et al. Surgery Versus Nonsurgical Treatment of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:465–473. doi: 10.7326/M14-1420
- Smith, JS. Operative and nonoperative treatment approaches for lumbar degenerative disc disease have similar long-term clinical outcomes among patients with positive discography. World Neurosurg. 2014 Nov;82(5):872-8.
- Katz, J, et al. Surgery versus Physical Therapy for a Meniscal Tear and Osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1675-1684.
- Kukkonen, J et al. Treatment of non-traumatic rotator cuff tears: A randomised controlled trial with one-year clinical results. Bone Joint J. 2014 Jan;96-B(1):75-81.
- Childs, J et al. Implications of early and guideline adherent physical therapy for low back pain on utilization and costs. BMC Health Services Research. 2015; 15:150.
- Fritz, JM, et al. Initial management decisions after a new consultation for low back pain: implications of the usage of physical therapy for subsequent health care costs and utilization. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2013 May;94(5):808-16. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2013.01.008. Epub 2013 Jan 18.
- Pendergast, J, et al. A Comparison of Health Care Use for Physician‐Referred and Self‐Referred Episodes of Outpatient Physical Therapy. HSR. 2012; 47:2, 633-654.