Eenie, Meeny, Meiny, Mo: How to Pick a Physical Therapist

As a physical therapist, all too often I have new patients come in who tell me that they’ve tried physical therapy in the past for six, seven, eight plus months, with basically nothing to show for it. The two questions I always ask these patients are: “What did they do with you?” and “Did you think that what they were doing was helping?” While I don’t expect patients to remember every detail of their PT regimens, they should be able to say with confidence whether or not they felt that PT helped them. For those of you reading this who can align yourselves with the plights of those poorly-served PT patients, I’d like to offer you these few pointers to help ensure that your next PT encounter doesn’t leave you feeling like all you’ve managed to accomplish is throwing a few dollars at that high insurance deductible.

Your physical therapist should be:

1. Present – Your physical therapist should BE PRESENT. If your therapist is spending 5 minutes with you then passing you on to an aide or trainer never to be seen again, it’s time to look for a new physical therapist.

2. Hands-on – While physical therapy does emphasize exercise and therapeutic activities, the manual techniques employed by your therapist can greatly help accelerate your healing process or correct dysfunction that could lead to injury down the road. If the physical therapy that you’re used to centers around ultrasound, heat packs, and stim, (electrical stimulation) with the therapist basically spending three minutes giving you a bad massage, it’s time to look for a new physical therapist.

3. Approachable and Informative – Too scared to ask your therapist why they have given you a specific exercise or why they are using a specific manual technique? You shouldn’t be. While the busy schedule of a physical therapist does not afford them the opportunity to spend hours upon hours with each patient, a therapist should be both willing and able to answer any relevant questions asked (and not asked) by the patient, within the allotted time.

4. Creative – Don’t expect a poetry reading when you go to physical therapy, however, your physical therapist should be able to provide you some variety with your exercises and treatments. If you’re doing the same exact thing at every session, for weeks on end, with no progression and no improvement in your symptoms, it’s time to look for a new physical therapist.

5. Competent – It goes without saying that your therapist should know what they’re doing, however, it is important that you feel confident in their competency. I’m not advocating that you base your physical therapist selection on their pedigree or how many letters they have after their name, but the manner in which they explain things to you, the exercises they prescribe, and the manual techniques they perform should all instill confidence in you that they can help you achieve your goals and improve your symptoms.

Delivering high-quality care has always been, and continues to be my number one priority. To that end,  these five tenets serve as the cornerstones of my physical therapy practice. However, my intent is not to tout how much better I am than others out there. Let this blog simply serve as an informative piece for anyone who has been to PT, is currently attending PT, or is looking for a physical therapist and wants to ensure the quality of services being offered. It’s your body. It’s your health. Choose wisely.