Can Physical Therapy help you avoid surgery?  

During the spring semester of my junior year at Villanova University, I received the diagnosis of F.A.I. (Femoroacetabular Impingement ) and a torn labrum in my left hip. A hip labral tear is a common injury that may cause hip and groin pain as well as other symptoms, such as hip locking or instability, depending on the severity and location of the tear. Labral tears are often the result of repetitive use from high impact sports or a one-time trauma (Parker, 2018). 

As a track and field athlete running for the Villanova Wildcats, I was beyond devastated to hear this. I remember meeting with my doctor to go over the MRI findings and to discuss the next steps. He laid out my options as follows: a cortisone injection to help ease the pain (keeping in mind that I would only be able to get two of these to my hip in my lifetime), or surgery (which would have me out completely for a few months).

“There’s nothing else I can do?” I apprehensively asked. My senior year was quickly approaching, which meant one last crack at a successful cross country season. I couldn’t afford to be on crutches all summer long. 

“Well, you can try physical therapy, but I can’t guarantee that this will help,” the doctor countered. 

I decided to consult with a physical therapist before I made my final decision. Ironically, this is how I was first introduced to Elite PT. After our first meeting, he left me feeling hopeful. He encouraged me to try three months of consistent strengthening and rehabilitation. If after three months I still did not find any relief, then surgery would likely be the next step. So, for the next three months, I met with my PT two to three times a week for physical therapy treatments. My treatment plan consisted of glute strengthening, balance and stability training, manual therapy, and frequent dry needling. It took a lot of hard work, positivity, and patience, but at the conclusion of my plan of care, I was pain-free. In fact, I was insurmountably stronger than I was prior to treatment. 

At the time, one of my teammates was also dealing with a torn labrum. She decided to jump straight into surgery despite my reasoning to give PT a try. I watched her limp around on crutches all summer after undergoing her surgery, while I walked pain-free. I was able to compete in my final cross country season at Villanova, while she had to sit on the sideline. Sadly enough, she still experiences dull aches in her hip, despite the best efforts of surgical intervention. 

While physical therapy worked for me, I am not suggesting that surgery is never required. The decision between PT and surgery is case-by-case, depending on myriad factors. My point is that physical therapy is often overlooked as a viable option for “quick” and effective results. Doctors may be too quick to suggest surgery as plan A and patients are sometimes even quicker to accept this as their only solution. As more studies are completed, more and more health care providers believe physical therapy may provide a non-invasive method of treatment for many patients, allowing them to avoid surgery (Tucson Orthopedic Institution, 2019). 

Aside from my experience with F.A.I. and a labral tear, other conditions that are able to find relief from PT ahead of surgery include spinal stenosis, meniscal tears, knee osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease, rotator cuff tears, and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

Before you go under the knife, make sure to do your research, and don’t be afraid to #choosept.

physical therapy for labral tear

Parker, Ander D. “Coping with Hip Labral Tears.” Sports, 27 Feb. 2018, 

Admin. “How Can Physical Therapy Help to Avoid Surgery?” Tucson Orthopaedic Institute, 10 Jan. 2019, 

written by Erin Jaskot