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Do I see my PT or Doctor First?

It is a safe bed to say that you've suffered from neck pain or back pain at some point in your life. When this happens, who do you usually go see for help? The two main options are your primary care provider or your physical therapist, but, how do you decide who best to see first?

A retrospective study published in February 2018 took a deeper look into the cost of seeing a PCP first vs. going directly to a physical therapist when it comes to neck and/or back pain. Data was accessed for over 600 adults between 2012 and 2014 to track how much each patient spent throughout their care, from beginning to end. 279 patients went directly to see their physical therapist while 324 went to their primary care physician for a referral beforehand. All patients received standardized physical therapy care in which patient reports pain levels and disability were assessed at the start and end of their care. The patients who went directly to a physical therapist spent significantly less than those who sought out care from their primary care physician first. The mean difference was about $1543. Patients in both groups showed similar improvements in pain and disability. Why might seeing a primary care physician cost more in the long run? When seeing a primary care physician, you have to take into account co-pays, referrals to see a specialist, costs for any imaging ordered by your PCP (X-rays, CT scans, MRI, etc.), and follow ups, all BEFORE getting ultimately referred  to your physical therapist. Not only is it more expensive, it also takes time to make various doctor's appointments and follow ups when you could walk straight into a physical therapy clinic for a full evaluation. There are 18 states with direct access including Colorado. This means patients are allowed to go directly to a physical therapist with no restrictions or limitations and without a referral from your primary care provider!

Not only can seeing your physical therapist directly save you time, it can also save you money, without sacrificing your care. Come see us as soon as you start having neck or back pain and we can help you without seeing your doctor first!

Happy Healing!

Maggie Nguyen PT, DPT


Denninger, T. et al. The Influence of Patient Choice of First Provider on Costs and Outcomes: Analysis from a Physical Therapy Patient Registry. JOSPT. 2017


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