This question seems tricky to answer without having a patient sitting in front of me. This is because physical therapists are trained to perform extensive physical assessments – which allows them to get the information they need to create a plan of care or refer. Regardless, I believe people need assurance that if they take the leap to see a PT, they are not wasting their time. So, let me explain in three simple points the way I see it, as it should provide clarity.
1) Are we asking the right question? I would like to take a step back and have you ask a different question. “Is medication, injections or even surgery the right intervention for me?” At this time I would dare to say that near 100% of patients with headaches think the answer is a primary care provider or medication if they are dealing with chronic headaches/migraine pain. This is before they even see a provider. A majority of those patients would also say that they don’t want to be taking that same medication, as they know it does not provide long-term relief and has side effects. So why do we continue to do the same thing over and over when we know it’s only going to provide short-term relief. If you are provided a low cost, long-term solution then why not give it a go.
2) Does the primary care provider really know best? Another assumption that is often made is I should ask my primary care provider and they will know if PT is right for me. This may be true, but I find myself educating providers on the benefits of manual therapy/physical therapy with headaches and this comes as a surprise more often than not. It may be unrealistic to expect them to know. It would be like picking a primary care provider over an optometrist for the solution to finding the right prescription glasses. That just seems silly, because everyone knows an optometrist has far more training and experience in prescribing glasses. If your headaches will benefit from manual therapy or you would rather have manual therapy over medication then pick the provider that has years of training and experience with manual therapy, i.e. a physical therapist. A side note, PTs have extensive backgrounds in neurology and are able to assess and refer for any condition outside of their scope. Be assured they will let you know if you aren’t a good fit.
3) Low risk and high reward. With the reasoning above, it only makes sense to be evaluated by a PT. The risk involved with seeing one is low and the potential reward is far greater than medication or injections. I know this because I have seen it. Patients receive long-term relief, wean off their medication and are not dependent on any providers or interventions. The upside is huge! Oh and by the way, 90% of headaches are tension type headaches, so the chances you fit into the PT, long-term relief category is super high.