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Physical Therapy vs. Surgery: Know Your Options


As a physical therapist assistant you will often be asked what your opinion is in regards to physical therapy techniques versus surgical options. These individuals are often patients that are dealing with an injury or chronic pain condition which a physician has made the recommendation to have a surgical procedure performed. When you are faced with these questions, you will need to know the most current studies for their injury, or condition, and the overall effects of these approaches to better provide understanding and additional knowledge to the patient receiving care.

Numerous studies have been performed regarding a wide variety of conditions and injuries to areas of the body. These studies have included results of techniques used for physical therapy as well as surgical options and their long term effects. While no two people will have the same results, because no two conditions are the same, but there is a noticeable pattern that has developed in what people are reporting to their treatments.

Before Surgery
It has always been the intentions of medical providers to make every effort to prevent the need for surgery. Surgery inherently has many possible unknown outcomes and often includes limiting post surgical factors which make it a last resort option in addressing many forms of conditions and injuries. Common treatments prescribed in an effort to prevent the need for a procedure include:

  • anti inflammatory medication therapy
  • physical therapy with goals of strengthening and stretching
  • heat/ice treatments
  • acupuncture or acupressure
  • use of supportive devices such as a brace or ace bandage
  • rest
  • massage
  • pain management

Physical therapy is a primary therapy recommended for the majority of rehabilitative approaches. It often enables individuals to regain flexibility and strength in the affected limbs and affected areas of the  body. A great benefit to patients is their increased mobility is often associated with their ability to manage symptoms of pain.

Patient Preferences
As a physical therapist assistant, you will find many people prefer physical therapy to the use of medications and surgery. This can be both good and bad for the overall outcome of their condition.

Chronic use of medications often carries with it the of:

  • increased tolerance
  • dependence
  • negative secondary health effects, such as to the kidneys or liver function
  • and other complications

This cannot be said of physical therapy.

Despite the need for surgical options to address a number of physical issues, the procedures can often leave a patient with additional limitations. The offer of surgery is not a guarantee that pain will be resolved, nor the condition be remedied. It is always the best hopes and intentions of medical providers that the best possible outcome will be the result of the intended procedure, but the sad fact is that it is not always the case.

Patients can be left with:

  • decreased mobility which is irreversible
  • chronic pain, or increase in pain
  • and a myriad of secondary complications related to the procedure or recovery process

Benefits of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a proven and reliable noninvasive method to address multiple bodily complaints and injuries which people suffer from. It has a useful way to address conditions such as:

  • arthritis
  • osteoarthritis
  • meniscus tear
  • rotator-cuff tear
  • torn cartilage
  • anterior cruciate ligament tear
  • sciatica
  • cervical radiculopathy
  • lower back pain
  • and more

The extensive studies completed have found, depending upon the condition being treated, that physical therapy is just as effective as many of the surgical options that are presented to patients. It is an exciting time to be a physical therapist assistant as the growing research is linking the far ranging benefits of physical therapy to a growing number of patient needs.

As a physical therapist assistant you will be able to provide this type of useful information to your patients, giving them the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision in their medical care and treatment.



My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

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