There are now over 300,000 physical therapists (PTs) in the United States. If you’re looking for one in any major metropolitan area like Denver, CO, it might feel like most of them are located near you! With so many, it may be overwhelming when looking for the right fit for you. All physical therapists have similar backgrounds when it comes to the basics. We are all required to graduate from an accredited school, pass the national boards, and hold an active license in each state we practice in. Most states also require us to take continuing education classes to maintain our license.
Some physical therapists go beyond these standards. They create a more personalized treatment experience. They learn how to use more progressive tools and techniques. They earn advanced certifications and specialize in certain areas of practice. Knowing this information is essential to finding the right PT for you!
Here are five key questions to ask your physical therapist on the first visit:
1. What do you love treating? If a PT loves treating a specific ailment or working with a specific population, it usually means they have some sort of expertise in this area of practice. They have probably done extra education and training on it. Maybe they even have their own personal experience to pull from. For example, many PTs get into ACL recovery and prevention because they sustained this type of injury while playing sports early in life.
2. What additional certifications or training do you have? For many diagnoses and body parts, there are certifications that represent a higher level of education and competency. For instance, a PT who specializes in dizziness may be Vestibular Certified or Concussion Certified. Your PT may have a Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT) designation if they specialize in manual therapy. Orthopedic Clinical Specialists (OCS) have earned their board certification in orthopedic examination and treatment. There are many other certifications available for physical therapists to earn as they focus on particular areas of study.
3. How much one-on-one time will you actually spend with me each session? Many clinics double book or even triple book their appointments. If this is the case, your therapist will be juggling multiple people and won’t be able to give you the undivided attention needed to get results. A quality session should be delivered on a one-on-one basis for at least 45 minutes so that there's ample time to discuss changes since your last appointment, to do a re-assessment of any new or changed symptoms, and to provide effective treatment including multiple “tests and retests” of functional movement patterns in between exercises to make sure that you’re actually heading in the right direction.
4. Are all appointments with you? Some clinics bounce patients around from PT to PT. Others employ rehab technicians and aides to carry out part or all of the treatment sessions. Typically these shenanigans create a subpar experience and result in a high drop out rate.
5. What happens if you can’t help me? Physical therapists can work on a wide range of ailments, but sometimes we need help from other providers. It is imperative that you trust your PT to address your needs from a holistic perspective and that they help coordinate care from other practitioners when necessary. Sometimes this could mean finding a different PT that’s better suited for your specific needs.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.