You shouldn’t skip your regular check-ups with a primary care provider. But if you aren’t considering a physical therapist as your first call when you experience a musculoskeletal issue—anything you feel in your joints, bones, muscles, ligaments or tendons—you’re likely making your path to recovery longer and more expensive than it could be.

A recent study in Sweden found that patients with suspected knee osteoarthritis showed no difference in improved pain and functional outcomes when they saw a physical therapist for their first consultation than when they saw a physician. In conjunction with other similar studies, this research tells us that physical therapists and doctors are equally qualified to assess and treat musculoskeletal pain and injuries. 

But when it comes to getting back to what you love doing faster—and without breaking the bank—it might make more sense to start with a physical therapist instead of with your physician. 

For one thing, going straight to a physical therapist instead of your physician will cost you less throughout your plan of care. Physical therapists are also less likely to order additional costly imaging or specialist assessments—the majority of which are unnecessary—saving you even more time and money. 

And for another, physical therapists are movement experts specifically trained to help keep your body moving the way it’s supposed to. For that reason, guidelines recommend physical therapy as an essential component of first-line treatment for musculoskeletal conditions, and physicians are just as likely to refer patients with musculoskeletal issues to physical therapists as anything else.