Finding a physical therapist is easy. Physical therapy clinics are seemingly on every corner. It is important to note however that not all physical therapy is the same so you want to make sure that you find a therapist that best fits your needs. Financial considerations aside, you are always able to choose where you go for your services.
To follow, I have provided several guiding questions that you may want to ask prior to choosing a physical therapist. Do you trust your car to a subpar mechanic? So why trust a subpar physical therapist with your injury?
As a physical therapist, I welcome calls from potential patients who want to interview me to discuss their issue and what I may be able to offer them. I realize that I may not always be the right fit, so if I can direct them towards the appropriate medical professional, I will. If you interview a potential medical professional and they dismiss your questions, then I would recommend finding another option.
Below are some guiding questions that can help you to make your decision:
What will a typical session look like?
Will you see the same physical therapist each time? Will you work with a physical therapy assistant? Will you receive manual therapy? How long are the sessions? These may or may not be concerns for you but they may be important factors in deciding on where you will complete your physical therapy.
What do you expect from me?
Physical therapy is a two-way street. Your therapist will often expect you to perform home exercises on your own to both expedite the process and help ingrain new movement patterns that will reduce the chance of future injury. Some therapists expect more than others and if you are uncomfortable with what your therapist may expect have this discussion early on so neither party has bad feelings.
What is your treatment philosophy?
Every therapist has a different treatment philosophy. While many of us share similar philosophies and guiding principles, we all have different influences that make our treatments unique. Subsequently, not every therapists' approach will be the right fit for what you need.
What expertise do you possess that makes you uniquely qualified to treat my condition?
While we all receive a similar education, we tend to specialize after getting our degrees based on our interests, experience, continuing education courses, professional influences and further reading, etc. While some therapists specialize in orthopedics, others specialize in vestibular rehab or even subspecialize in sports or concussions. It is important that you find a therapist who is in tune with the unique needs of your condition. It may not be the best option to see an orthopedic specialist for your vestibular injury, as they may not be able to provide the top-level care that you are looking for.
How can you assure that I will receive the best care for my unique situation?
Some clinics see multiple people an hour, while some therapists see one person an hour. Some provide a standard protocol for an injury, while others individualize their practice. Make sure to find the therapist who is uniquely qualified, perhaps with a special interest in your pathology, and a clinic that fits your expectations.
Throughout the process you should always keep an open line of communication with your physical therapist. It should be a joint effort in your recovery and you should always be able to question their thought process and plan of care. This keeps them honest and helps to assure that you are receiving the best interventions for your condition. Hopefully this provides you with an outline for how to approach finding a physical therapist when you may be navigating unfamiliar territory. Make sure you are comfortable with the therapist you choose because this can be a relationship that lasts several weeks or months and you should be happy and comfortable with your decision.
Jon Herting, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW is a physical therapist and strength coach in Garnet Valley, PA who specializes in athletic rehab, reconditioning and return to sport. He is a guest contributor for Sports Doc.