When should you seek Physical Therapy?
I often have friends asking me what they should do when they experience pain after a workout at the gym, an outdoor adventure, or a simple daily activity like going up the stairs. Did they hurt themselves? Should they see a doctor? Should they just rest and ice it? Should they push through the pain and keep going to the gym?
Here are some basic guidelines for small, new injuries and how to approach treating them:
- Take a break from strenuous activities and working out in the body area that you hurt for a couple of days, up to 1 week. Resting the area and icing can often be helpful. Try gentle stretches for it after 2-3 days, 30 second holds.
- The pain from the injured tissue should start lessening after a few days or a week of rest. As long as the pain is reducing in about 1 week, even if it’s not totally gone, you are probably on the right track. Keep resting from strenuous activities in the injured area, maybe start light and keep stretching.
- If the pain persists, worsens, or does not fully go away after 2-3 weeks since the injury, you should go see a healthcare provider. Specifically for back pain, research has shown that getting in to see a PT after 16 days of pain can reduce time needed for PT to just 1-2 visits to resolve symptoms. If you are unsure if it is too serious and you should a medical doctor, you can still directly see a physical therapist; we are trained in testing if your symptoms are appropriate for physical therapy or if you need to go see another provider. You can also see your primary care provider, but they will likely refer you to a physical therapist before getting an x-ray or MRI to get tested to see if you need imaging done. So basically, go see your physical therapist!
The longer you wait to see a provider to resolve your symptoms, the harder it is going to be to treat your pain. Patients often need fewer therapy visits and recover from their injury faster when they come in for physical therapy care sooner. Once an injury and pain become chronic, it is harder for the body to heal the tissue. People also often develop bad movement patterns as a way to compensate for the painful and weakening injured area. This becomes harder to reverse and undo the longer you wait to get treated.
So, if you injure yourself, rest and ice for a few days. If it starts getting better, continue resting and start gentle movement and stretching. Don’t push through the pain. If it gets worse or doesn’t change after more than 2-3 weeks, then go see a healthcare provider, like a physical therapist!