Do I need to see a doctor before a Physical Therapist?

Do I need to see a doctor before a Physical Therapist?

April 26, 2021

This is one of the most common questions Physical Therapists get asked. It is also one of the most frequently searched questions on Google relating to Physical Therapy. 

The answer to the question is, NO. 

In the state of Florida (and most other states) you do NOT need a referral from a doctor to see a Physical Therapist. Florida law allows you DIRECT ACCESS to see a Physical Therapist for 30 days without a Doctor’s referral. If Physical Therapy treatment is still needed after 30 days the therapist faxes the ‘plan of care’ to your doctor and 99% of the time they sign it and fax it back so you can continue with the treatment that you need. This is great news, largely common sense and consistent with law in the rest of the developed world. 

I say common sense because of two main reasons;

  1. Physical Therapists are highly educated to doctorate level and are trained to deal with all types of injuries. More importantly, they are also trained on when NOT to treat a patient with Physical Therapy. On how to screen/recognize more serious pathology and when to refer out for imaging or further investigations. In my own career, I have declined to treat multiple patients until they got certain tests done to rule in/out pathologies that I was concerned about following my own evaluation.  
  1. Unfortunately it can often take a long time to get an appointment with your doctor. My own doctor has a wait time of approximately 9 weeks! Can you imagine being in a lot of pain due to a back, neck, shoulder, knee injury etc and having to wait 9 weeks to get a script that says it’s ok for you to start your treatment now. That is nonsensical and damaging to your health and quality of life. 

The earlier a Physical Therapist sees you after injury the better! If Physical Therapy is delayed not only will you be unnecessarily suffering in pain, but undesirable anatomical changes may begin, muscles become weaker, joints stiffen up, your body starts to compensate because you are in pain.

Two examples;

a, if your knee hurts you may start to walk differently causing further problems in the knee and further problems elsewhere in the body i.e the kinetic chain.

b, if your shoulder hurts you won’t use it as you did pre-injury potentially causing other problems, usually neck and/or thoracic spine pain.

Mental health can also be affected because you are in prolonged pain and might not be able to exercise or play sports because you are injured. This can have a sever impact on quality of life. As a frequently injured golf enthusiast myself, I know how damaging it can be to not be able to get out there and play the game you love with friends or family. We also hear this everyday from our patients in our clinic “I just want to get back to the gym” “I just want to play tennis” “I just want to ride my bike”.  

Delayed access to Physical Therapy would also mean that when you do eventually start your Physical Therapy you will likely need more sessions to address all the problems that were caused due to the delay. 

So there you have it folks, I hope this article is helpful and answers one of the most frequently asked questions in the Physical Therapy world. If you have any questions please reach out to me at 

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