is it time?

Deciding if pain is bad enough to warrant physical therapy can be tough. You may think things like, “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time,” or “I don’t want to seem like a complainer,” so they just try tough it out.

Honestly, sometimes, it’s hard to know if a problem is severe enough to warrant physical therapy.

“Maybe this tweak in my back will get better on its own.”

Is this pain really bad enough to need physical therapy? It’s a fair question to ask. When is it bad enough to need physical therapy? What is the threshold that needs to be met for physical therapy to be appropriate?

Hopefully, this short post will help provide some guidance on that so let’s dive in…

First of all, our bodies do indeed have an amazing ability to heal themselves.

Often, minor acute injuries, aches, or pains will improve with time. For example, a minor ankle sprain or back stiffness. After a few hours or days, things will often go back to normal without any formal intervention. Maybe you needed a heating pad to help get you through it, but it certainly didn’t require seeing a physical therapy for a full plan of care.

When a person comes to us and asks if physical therapy is a good fit for them, there are a lot of factors to consider.

The top 3 factors we consider when making a recommendation for physical therapy are: Duration, Intensity, and Activity.

Duration: How long has this pain or injury been bothering you?

If the answer to this is not any longer than a week and the symptoms seem to be improving, often physical therapy isn’t necessary. At least it may not be at that time.

If symptoms haven’t been around for very long (< 1-2 weeks), aren’t severe, and seem to be getting better, I’d generally recommend people give it a few more days. I’d also recommend they keep moving as much as possible without aggravating the symptoms and continue to monitor for changes.

When someone talks about their pain being around, even if it’s just off and on, for 3 weeks or longer, it may be appropriate at that point to have a professional look at things to see what’s going on.

The reason for this being when an injury has been lingering and doesn’t seem to be improving after a couple of weeks it can become more difficult to treat and take longer to start making improvements. This leads to more of your life being interrupted, more money spent, and obviously more pain.

When pain or injury has been around for 6+months it has become a chronic issue and generally becomes harder to improve.

As a side bar: it is important to note that just because a problem is considered “chronic” does not mean it is permanent. There are entire books written on this topic so I won’t go into great detail, but it’s important to know that just because you have had a particular injury or pain for a year doesn’t mean that it can’t improve with the right treatments.

Severity: How bad is the pain and is it changing?

When an injury occurred 4 days ago and the pain was originally 5 out of 10 on a 0-10 pain scale, but today it’s more like a 3. That is a promising sign. When the severity is improving and the injury is still relatively new, the general recommendation would be to keep moving as much as possible and continue to monitor.

When the severity stays the same or starts to get worse, that’s when a closer look may be appropriate.

Activity: What activity is this keeping you from doing?

When pain isn’t disrupting a person’s normal life and it seems to be improving, formal physical therapy is likely not necessary.

However, if the injury is now keeping a person from being able to do household chores, playing with their kids, or doing things like walk the dog around the block, it’s time to have a professional evaluate the situation.

These are certainly not hard and fast rules by any means, but they are a good place to start when trying to decide whether it’s time for physical therapy.

If you are dealing with some pain or an injury and you just aren’t sure if physical therapy would be beneficial, give Switchback Direct Physical Therapy a call.

We’re happy to discuss what’s going on and steer you in the right direction.


Not all pain or injuries require formal treatment by a physical therapist.

3 things to consider when deciding whether or not you should do physical therapy: Duration, Severity, and Activity

If you’re not sure, call a Physical Therapist and ask. They are usually pretty nice people!


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

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