Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

ABC’s of PT: For Physical Therapy Month, a doctor addresses the whys, the hows.

Every day millions of people wake up seeking an answer to their pain (neck, back, knee, etc.).

But more than that, it is what the pain prevents them from doing. They are looking for a way to get back to playing with kids or grandkids, taking that family vacation, and working without hurting so much.

Most want to do this without having to rely upon pain medication or consider surgery. People want a more natural solution, which is great because the human body is resilient and often can heal itself with a little TLC. This is the role and place for a physical therapist, and, each October, this educational message is emphasized during National Physical Therapy Month.

Many people do not make the choice to see a physical therapist because, first, they do not know what we do and how we can help them. Secondly, they do not realize how easy it is to see a physical therapist and, third, they are fearful of making the wrong decision for their ache/pain/issue.

So, let’s address these issues.

What is a physical therapist and what does one do?

Physical therapists are neuromusculoskeletal experts, meaning we help people with any problem that impacts muscles, joints or the neurological system (think stroke or MS, among many more), preventing a person from enjoying daily life and recreation. The issue could be new or old, after surgery, after an accident, or just because something hurts or prevents you from doing something you want to do.

We help people with problems such as trouble walking up steps, getting up from a chair, reaching into a cabinet or bending over to pick up a bag of groceries. Some people contact us because they just feel stiff or cannot move like they want or they hurt when they do. If you are looking to prevent worsening of some condition or just want your body to feel younger—a physical therapist can help.

How easy is it to see a physical therapist?

It’s very easy. In most instances in Pennsylvania, you can have immediate access to physical therapy services without a doctor’s referral. Technically, even Medicare patients can be seen for an evaluation without a doctor’s script but may not be able to be treated based on the provider they choose. In almost all instances, a doctor’s referral will be necessary for Medicare patients to get treatment and after 30 days for everyone else.

Why do people struggle to make the decision to get help?

Because many are fearful of making the wrong decision, that the choice they make will not lead them to the solution they want. They are nervous that the person or type of treatment they choose will not be the right one for them. Or they even feel let down by some provider or the medical system as a whole to the point they don’t know what to do—so they choose nothing. These feelings are understandable. But just because one treatment or one provider did not work does not mean the next won’t be able to help. Treating the human body is an inexact science—sometimes trial and error is necessary—and other times those other false starts leads to the right answer.

In the end, it comes down to what a person is willing to live with. Many people live with pain unnecessarily, unaware that physical therapy can help them live normal, active lives again.

Dr. Andrew Zang is board certified in orthopedics and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Physical Therapists. For more information, call 717-440-6197 or visit

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