Monday, January 13, 2014

High/Low: Physical Therapy

image from My New Place
Go high end.

I'll grant that physical therapy isn't the usual fare of LuxeAusterity, but as I head into another round of it, it is very much on my mind. And considering that treating illness and physical injuries can play a large part in one's finances, it seems appropriate to discuss.

I've had a few injuries over the years, including hurting my knee while running a few years ago, and ending up with a slipped disc in my back two years ago. The way I approached treating these two injuries with physical therapy were different, and so were the outcomes.

After injuring my knee while running, my doctor suggested physical therapy. I had done some PT as a teenager, but that was very basic, and with the physical trainer at my prep school. So, when my knee needed professional help, I had no real basis to go from in choosing someone to help. Going off of the list my doctor gave me, I called around to find a physical therapy place that took my insurance, and went with the most convenient location.

Not really knowing what to expect, I didn't think much about the way that location worked. I would show up for an appointment, be assigned someone working that day, and do some exercises given to me while my physical therapist split his or her time with several clients. After each appointment, I was hooked up to a machine that would work my muscles a little more.

Every time I went, I wondered what the point was. Besides the machine, I might as well be doing the exercises on my own at home. There was no connection between me and a physical therapist, there was very little correction of my movements that might be wrong, and the whole thing just seemed like a waste of a co-pay. Needless to say, I stopped going well before the time the doctor had suggested. Eventually my knee improved, but I never regained my momentum with running -- I never felt confident that I wouldn't end up in the same spot.

Then, two years ago, I woke up one morning with terrible back pain. Back pain was not new to me, but  this time something felt worse. I called work to say I'd be in late, but as the day went on, I eventually ended up on the floor, unable to sit or stand, even with help. It was a terrifying experience. After a visit to the hospital stabilized me, physical therapy was again prescribed.

I wasn't looking forward to the physical therapy. I figured it would be another waste of money and time, but I wanted to do anything to avoid surgery, so I planned to go. Luckily, my doctor talked me into using a place he had been to for his own injury, and felt strongly was where I should go. I remember being slightly hesitant, because he opened his argument by saying this office would not take my health insurance, and I would have to pay out of pocket.

Thankfully, however, I trusted his judgement and gave it a try… And it was a completely different experience.  Not only did I have a great physical therapist who spent my entire session focused on me, but because he did, I learned so much about my injury, healing it, physical therapy exercises, and even acupuncture. I eventually even got back to playing tennis -- something that seemed impossible when I started.

In the end, I spent a good deal more money for my back than I did for my knee, but I believe that was only because I stopped going for my knee early -- had I continued with the prescribed physical therapy appointments for my knee, I might still be going with very little improvement, instead of a drastic improvement like I saw with my back.

When I made the decision today to choose a physical therapist again, I did not even need to think about it… Obviously, I am going back to the place I went for my back, even though, again, it will not be covered by my health insurance.

When it comes to one's health, the cost of the long term results are far more important than the monetary cost -- a lesson I learned well enough to never forget. I am thankful I can pay for this out-of-network treatment, and it makes me thankful to the organizations across America that help pay for other types of treatments for people who cannot afford them. I've been lucky enough to only need to worry about physical therapy --  thank goodness there are options for others who are dealing with more.

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