Many patients who sustain a musculoskeletal injury wonder if they need urgent care or physical therapy -- or both? Here’s what you need to know about each of these options, and how the two can work together to help you heal.
Urgent care performs the initial evaluation
If you sustain an injury, urgent care should be your first stop. An urgent care provider can perform a prompt and thorough evaluation of your injury, order any diagnostic tests that may be indicated (like X-rays or MRIs), make the diagnosis, and rule out any other injuries or complications.
Urgent care stabilizes the injury
After making the diagnosis, an urgent care provider can take the appropriate measures to stabilize your injury to minimize further damage and help the injury begin to heal. Most urgent care clinics have splints, arm slings, ACE wraps, crutches, post-op shoes, and walking boots on hand so they can appropriately stabilize your injury.
Urgent care makes the referral
After diagnosing and treating your injury, an urgent care provider can refer you to physical therapy. The referral informs your insurance company that the visit is medically necessary. It also tells the physical therapist your diagnosis, as well as the frequency and number of visits that will likely be required to fully heal your injury.
If you need a referral to another specialty practice like orthopedics, your urgent care provider can make that referral as well.
Physical Therapy does a detailed assessment
Most physical therapists hold a doctoral degree in physical therapy, which means they’ve undergone extensive training in how to evaluate and rehabilitate both acute and chronic conditions. At your first visit, your physical therapist will use specialized tools, measurements and assessments to thoroughly evaluate the extent of your injury and how it impacts your ability to function.
Physical Therapy creates a treatment plan
After performing a detailed assessment, your physical therapist will design a treatment plan that’s unique to you. This treatment plan takes into account your injury, other health conditions, and the goals you want to reach by the time you finish therapy. If your injury has affected your ability to perform your job, the treatment plan also typically includes the goals you’ll need to reach to be able to return to work.
Depending on your injury, treatment options may include stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as heat, ice, massage, ultrasound or gentle electrical stimulation with a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit.
Physical Therapy offers ongoing treatment until the injury heals
While urgent care is typically a one-time visit to evaluate and diagnose your injury, physical therapy usually entails multiple visits at regular intervals to make sure you get ongoing care as you progress toward your goals.
If you need help assessing your injury, come see the experts at one of our urgent care locations. You can walk in without an appointment or check-in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant