No one wants to be in pain, especially if you’re an active person. So, when any kind of ache, tweak, mysterious twinge or more serious strain, chronic discomfort or injury occurs, usually your first instinct is to see a doctor. But heading to your primary care doctor or trying to get in to see an orthopedic specialist might not be the most efficient or economical solution.

That’s not because an orthopedist won’t know how to diagnose you – they certainly will – but simply because (1) they’re in high demand and therefore usually have long waiting lists for appointments, (2) only have time to assess a patient’s current acute need and (3) the most common treatment prescribed by ortho doctors is physical therapy. They, too, rely on PTs to be the experts on treating musculoskeletal conditions and their underlying causes.

Physical therapists (especially the ones with the distinction of “DPT” after their names) are the medical authorities best suited to relieve musculoskeletal pain as well as diagnose and treat the root cause so pain doesn’t recur. They study every single muscle and tendon in the body, and are experts in biomechanics and how the body moves. Going to a physical therapist directly for musculoskeletal pain will save you both time and money – and the sooner you start treatment, the sooner you’ll feel better.

So what should you look for in a PT?

Finding a mechanic for your body is a lot like finding a good mechanic for your car. Strong personal recommendations are a good sign. Individual attention is another — an initial evaluation should last 45-60 minutes and your PT should ask detailed questions about your medical and athletic history. You should feel like you’re being treated as a whole person, not just as one injured body part, and you should have the undivided attention of a PT for the entire evaluation instead of being passed off to an assistant or aide. Top notch PTs also have close professional relationships with doctors and specialists whom they can consult with regarding your plan of care. Should you need imaging to confirm a diagnosis or need a consult with a specialist, your PT should be able to make a recommendation and often get you in to see that doctor sooner than you could on your own.

Hopefully you’ll stay injury and pain free. But should discomfort or a limitation in your daily activity arise, seek out an expert who can provide the hands-on care to get you back to doing what you love as soon as possible. See a PT first.