If you are over 40 (or close-ish to it), like myself and many of my clients, you probably have experienced body aches and pains. You previously could ignore these symptoms, but as you've gotten older, they have become more persistent. With all of the various body care providers available, who should you see?
Thankfully, you have many options. However, the multitude of options can be overwhelming and lead to confusion. As a physical therapist and practice owner, I'm biased. I honestly believe physical therapy is the BEST place to start for diagnosing and managing your musculoskeletal issues. But, I also know that other body care specialists have unique gifts and offerings that may fit your body's needs.
I've listened to hundreds (if not thousands) of personal stories regarding various muscle and joint issues. I have had the unique opportunity to hear about all the different interventions people have tried and have learned what works. I want to share this with you.
I know figuring out where to start and who to trust are probably the most challenging decisions. Keep in mind that every practitioner knows their world best. We all have our biases. I don't pretend to fully understand what each of the following specialists can offer you. However, I know what I've heard, witnessed, and experienced. Here are a few suggestions that may help you:
Physical Therapist: PTs are the masters of understanding movement and the function of your musculoskeletal system. Physical Therapy is an excellent place to start if you have an ache that has crept up on you, a pain that comes and goes, or one that has gradually progressed. It can also be beneficial if your pain suddenly comes on with our without an apparent injury. We can diagnose you, determine your pain generator, figure out your underlying dysfunction (or what led to your pain) and provide natural interventions that last. As doctors of PT, we recognize red flags or conditions beyond our scope of care. If we suspect these, we will refer you to the appropriate provider.
General Practitioner: If you have a doctor you see regularly, it makes perfect sense to ask them for advice. Remember that they are the gatekeepers to direct you to specialists that can genuinely help. Your MD will likely offer a diagnosis, general direction, and medication.
Walk-in or Emergency Room MD: Reserve these options when you are injured and need immediate attention. They can help diagnose specific injuries such as fractures and recognize conditions where you need urgent intervention, imaging, and medication.
Orthopedic MD Specialist: These practitioners are ideal for those orthopedic conditions that are chronic or acute. Like physical therapists, they will take you through a series of clinical tests to diagnose you. They can also order imaging and medication and determine if you need surgery. They often prescribe physical therapy.
Massage Therapist: Massage therapists are excellent at providing short-term relief for tight and tender tissues such as muscle and fascia. Many have more advanced offerings such as cupping, myofascial release, energy work, etc. They often provide a relaxing environment to help reduce stress and promote healing.
Chiropractor: Like PT, chiropractors offer a variety of interventions and approaches. They can diagnose and treat you, providing a full recovery service. They are well known for their manipulation practices; many also specialize in soft tissue treatment. Throughout my career, I have seen clients respond beautifully to a combination of PT and chiropractic care.
Registered Dietician: RDs are critical to optimizing your nutrition. Poor nutrition can lead to gut issues and systemic inflammation that can present as muscle and joint pain. The right nutritional plan can help improve your gut health and reduce systemic inflammation. It can also support your fat loss and muscle gain needs, which your joints crave. Hiring a personal RD is well worth your time and money investment.
Mental Health Provider: These professionals may not provide direct body care, but their impact on your mind greatly affects your physical body. If you are suffering from unresolved trauma or daily afflictions, your body feels it everywhere. This underlying (& often suppressed) mental stress can create inflammation and patterning that prevents you from fully healing. A phrase that has stuck with me is "Our issues often reside in our tissues." I've seen this time and again in the clinic.
I hope all this information helps you know which provider(s) is best for you to continue to be active and feel great as you age.
Comment below to add to this conversation. Let us know who or what has worked for you! If you are a health care provider, let us know what you can offer too!
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