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Do You Need a Referral For Physical Therapy?

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Are you getting tired of the chronic pain that has been going on for years, but have never gotten a referral to be treated by a physical therapist? You’re in luck! Many states, including Iowa, are a direct access state meaning no referral is needed. Yes. You read that right – no referral needed! Below, we will discuss different ways PT can help you with or without having a referral and answer some FAQs about physical therapy coverage.

Without Referral

Iowa is one of the 18 unrestricted patient access states that have no limitations for treatment absent of a referral. However, there are still many states that only allow treatment without a referral under very limited circumstances, so it is important to check with your physical therapist and/or doctor before scheduling your appointment. In Iowa, most insurances do not need a referral if your plan covers physical therapy. If you are unsure, you can always call your provider before making your appointment.


Physical therapists are more than qualified to deliver services without a referral as they are educated at the post-baccalaureate level and receive extensive education and training in examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and more. Allowing patients to make some of their own decisions regarding their healthcare is good policy and helps make healthcare more accessible to people.

With Referral

If you have a referral, you typically have no worries when it comes to making an appointment and running into issues with your provider. Many people still take this route to keep their physician in the loop and to ensure there is not a more serious condition at bay. If you do see a physician and receive a referral, your physical therapist may consult with your doctor for background information, history or any other information they might need to help determine a better plan.


  • Does my insurance cover physical therapy?
    • Many do, but to be sure you should contact your provider.
  • What is the difference between a physical therapist and a physician?
    • Many PTs have their DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) and may receive similar education, but PTs have a focus on therapy and physicians focus on medicine. Both can still diagnose, treat, evaluate and more!
  • Is PT a “quick fix”?
    • Physical therapy is not a quick fix and is focused on the long term success and healing which takes time both in the office and at home. You often will have at-home exercises and PT treatment in the office for multiple weeks depending on your diagnosis.

Physical therapy can be the best solution for many. It is unique in that it can help heal chronic issues that have occurred for years, or treat an injury that just happened last week. If you are looking for a Physical Therapist to help treat your pain but don’t have a referral, don’t hesitate to call Core Physical Therapy today!

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