All About Direct Access

direct access

Have you ever had something going on where you needed to see your orthopedic doctor but when you called, their wait time was a month out? Although it's a good sign that you have a great (and popular) doctor, chances are you don't want to wait to be seen. Something is going on now that you want a doctor's opinion on and potentially their referral to go see a physical therapist. So what do you do? Go straight to your physical therapist thanks to direct access!

What is Direct Access?

Honestly, it's just that! Direct access gives you direct access to your physical therapist & their services without a prescription or referral from a doctor. Unfortunately, many people think that physical therapists are off-limits unless a doctor refers them over. Thankfully, with California adopting direct access, you cut out the middleman of having to see the doctor immediately upon injury if you'd like to get started with physical therapy.

Laws, rules, & regulations regarding direct access, however, differ from state-to-state. If you are in the state of California, the rules are as follows:

  • You (the patient) can see a physical therapist for 45 days OR 12 visits without receiving a doctor's approval (signed and dated plan of care).

  • The physical therapist that you are seeing has the obligation to refer you (the patient) to a doctor if signs or symptoms requires treatment beyond what they (the physical therapist) can offer OR if you (the patient) has shown no progress towards the documented treatment goals.

  • You (the patient) will need to give written authorization for the physical therapist to notify your doctor that they (the physical therapist) are treating you.

  • The physical therapist cannot diagnose disease.

If you are in a different state, check with the APTA or state physical therapy board to see if you are able to go straight to your local physical therapist OR call a local physical therapy office. They should be able to tell you if they can see you without a referral. Certain insurances do require you to get a referral first!

When's the right time to see your doctor rather than your physical therapist?

As much as we would love to say there is no reason not to see your physical therapist over your doctor, there are some instances where seeing your doctor is the better choice:

  • If you are experiencing internal pain (pain that is internally deep, that isn't affected by touch)

  • If you are experiencing pain only at night

  • If you have severe pain or numbness that came on suddenly with no known injury

  • If you are having difficulty using the restroom or are experiencing pain associated with using the restroom

  • If you are experiencing pain with coughing, sneezing, or bearing down

  • If you are experiencing neurological symptoms (i.e. severe dizziness, ringing in the ears, changes with vision, etc.)

So what are you waiting for? If you are experiencing pain or suffered an injury, schedule an appointment to see a physical therapist. We at Envision Sport would love to see you return to things you love doing. Get in touch with us today & start working towards a full recovery.


American Physical Therapy Assocation,


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