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Q & A

Answers to commonly asked questions from the experts on Thumbtack.

Why is physical therapy important?

Physical therapy can help you recover range of motion and ease pain after injury, accident or illness. Many people are prescribed physical therapy by their primary care doctor or specialist after a car accident, surgery or sports-related injury. You don’t need a doctor’s referral to start physical therapy, but unless you are paying out of pocket for the services, your insurance provider might require a referral. Physical therapy is also a medical solution for pain associated with chronic illness such as osteoarthritis and can be used for recovery after a stroke or other neurological disorders.

Physical therapy teaches you how to move your body in a safe and healing way to regain strength and movement. During a physical therapy session, the PT will teach you to use medical exercise equipment and approved exercises to regain your lost flexibility and improve your mobility where possible. You may use treadmills, steps, medicine balls, resistance bands, isometric exercises, weights and more. From young children to seniors, patients of any age can benefit from the science-based movements and exercises that encourage flexibility, rebuild muscle, and ease stiff joints.

What exactly does a physical therapist do?

A physical therapist is a health care provider who assists patients with mobility improvement and pain management. Often patients are referred to a physical therapist by a primary care doctor or specialist for help recovering from a surgery or traumatic injury, such as a car crash. Physical therapists help patients manage pain that results from chronic disease and other illness. Physical therapy can help enhance mobility when patients are faced with neurological disorders, such as after a stroke, and provide relief from arthritis or other mobility and pain issues.   

A physical therapist uses medical exercise equipment and exercises to empower patients to regain flexibility and mobility where possible. They may use treadmills, steps, medicine balls, resistance bands, isometric exercises, weights and more to improve muscle control and movement. A physical therapist uses physical movement to help heal the patient, but also can sometimes prescribe medication as appropriate. A physical therapist can also become board certified in one of nine specialty areas.

What are the different types of physical therapy?

Physical therapists work with people who have been injured or people who are ill to improve their movement and help them manage their pain. The U.S. Department of Labor explains that physical therapists “are often an important part of rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.” Physical therapists can also choose to specialize in one of nine areas. According to the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, these areas of specialization are:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports and
  • Women's Health

 

The national average cost for a physical therapist is $60 to $80, although it will cost more if the patient is paying for services out of pocket rather than through insurance. If you have insurance and want to work with a physical therapist for a specialty area, such as oncology or geriatrics, you may need a referral from your general practitioner. Patients who are paying directly for services can often contact the physical therapist directly.

What’s the best way to set up a consultation or an appointment with a massage therapist during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Ask your massage therapist if they offer consultations over a video chat or phone call. If they do, ask them any questions you have about the upcoming appointment. For example, ask what precautions they're taking to keep both parties safe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You might also want to ask if they offer gift cards that can be used at a later time, remote services or even virtual lessons for you or members in your household.

Also, ask how they plan to handle payments, and whether you can pay through an online or digital method instead of with physical cash or credit cards. 

Are there ways to be safe if I hire a massage therapist when social distancing?

Because massage therapy requires person-to-person contact, social distancing is not possible. However, you can ask massage therapists near you if they can offer remote services instead, such as lessons for you and your partner.

If you don’t want to book an appointment with a massage therapist right now, but you will in the future when the pandemic subsides, consider paying your massage therapist in advance or tipping them anyway. You can also ask about buying a gift card for future work. 

Can I use digital payments to pay for a massage?

Many massage therapists accept digital payments through Venmo, Apple Pay, PayPal, Venmo, Square Cash, Zelle and other online platforms. Even businesses that do not typically accept digital payments may be changing their methods to practice social distancing. Just check with your massage therapist before the appointment to see how they handle payments.  

How much does a physical therapy session cost?

The national average cost for a physical therapy session is $60 to $80, although the cost may be higher if the patient pays out of pocket for the services instead of being covered by insurance. Physical therapy sessions may last from 30 to 120 minutes, depending on the therapist and your medical needs. When paying out of pocket, session rates may range from an average of $75-$300 or more, depending on the location, length of session, and specialization of the therapist. Standard out-of-pocket rates average $150 per session. According to the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, physical therapists may become board certified in one of nine specialties: Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Clinical Electrophysiology, Geriatrics, Neurology, Oncology, Orthopaedics, Pediatrics, Sports, and Women's Health. To receive this board specialist certification, the physical therapist must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical work in their specialty area and pass an exam. A physical therapist who is board certified in a specialty may charge higher rates to account for their advanced training and expertise.

Does a massage therapist need to enter my home?

Many massage therapists operate their businesses out of their own homes, though some offer mobile massages and come to your home. You should ask the massage therapist where they typically operate and if they are making any special accommodations to better observe the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing

If you must cancel or delay your massage therapy appointment due to COVID-19, consider asking the therapist if they can offer massage techniques or lessons via video chat, email or some other digital format. You can also ask if it's possible to buy gift cards that can be used at a later time.

How can I find out if a massage therapist is considered an essential COVID-19 service provider?

The definition of an essential COVID-19 service provider varies from state to state and city to city. To see which businesses are considered essential in your area, visit the official government website of your state or city.

You can also read CISA’s publication on identifying critical workers to find out more information on a national level. However, not all jurisdictions follow CISA’s definitions of critical infrastructure.

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