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Can Physical Therapy Help Me Avoid Surgery?

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

One of the more common questions we are asked is, “Can physical therapy help me avoid surgery?”

Out of respect for how different each patient’s situation can be, we can’t responsibly say yes or no without knowing something about the patient. There are, however, 4 primary areas that we ask about or observe to help us gauge this question when we start working with a patient.  These areas are:

1. The patient’s diagnosis

There are some medical conditions that can be more readily rehabilitated without surgery (when the other factors listed here are ideal).  For instance, rotator cuff tears and arthritic knees can often be improved through the many benefits of physical therapy. Other conditions may not be easily corrected without surgery.

2. The doctor’s recommendation

We work closely with our referring physicians when we are treating our patients. When a physician recommends surgery, we will respond honestly to patient questions and encourage them to listen carefully to the physician’s reasoning as to the importance of surgery versus strictly physical therapy.  It should be noted that pre-AND-post surgical physical therapy can make a significant difference in the healing process.

3. The patient’s personality

Patient’s who are patient with themselves and interested (and willing) to put forth concentrated effort towards physical therapy (appointments and at home) have a better chance of rehabbing without surgery, just by the virtue of their attitudes and perceptions.

4. The patient’s personal circumstances

In situations where the pain the patient is experiencing is beyond tolerable, avoiding surgery may not be ideal.  And, in situations where a patient needs to be able to heal very quickly (due to a job, family or other area of demand in their lives), they may not be able to devote adequate time to rehabbing without surgery.

When surgery is being considered, it is especially important to talk speak candidly to your physician and your physical therapist(s), to explore the answer to this question. Considering each of these areas listed is especially helpful in determining what is best for you or your loved one.

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