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What to look for in a good physical therapist

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Finding the right physical therapist is important. When you are in pain with an injury, recovering from a surgery, or working to improve your quality of life, you need to find the right provider that you can trust to guide you in the process.

Do they listen to you and communicate well?

Injuries and health conditions are complicated, and it's important to find a physical therapist that pays attention to the words that you are saying, and that asks you the right questions to understand your journey into their clinic. They should also provide you with a realistic timeline for recovery. A good physical therapist works on a biopsychosocial model of pain, which means that they pay attention to the psychological factors (stress, anxiety, mood), the biological factors (health, nutrition, sleep, previous injury or medical history) and the social factors (family relationships, work, social support) that affect you to best address your pain. During the initial evaluation, you should feel a beneficial relationship forming with your physical therapist.

Do they have you actively participating in your care?

PT should not be passive. Some time spent on pain control, joint mobilization, soft tissue work, or with ice/heat is okay, but if it seems like the entire session is you on the table, with things happening to you, it probably won't help much in the long term. Exercise -including strength, mobility, flexibility, balance, and motor control- is the only thing that will make a difference in your pain long-term. While the modalities and hands-on work may feel good, those benefits often go away within minutes of the session, and then you don't have the tools at home to help control your pain. You will likely have some homework to make long-term changes in your musculoskeletal and nervous systems to improve your injury and pain.

Do they adjust your program when you give them feedback?

A good physical therapist should be asking how your progress is, what your concerns are, and how things are changing. They should change your exercise plan every so often to bring you closer to your goals. Are things seeming too easy? Are things too difficult or painful? They should find a way to adjust to make the plan work for you. You should feel your time on the exercises is productive, tolerable, and successful.

Are they up to date on the evidence?

While no two patients or injuries are the same, your PT should be consistently using evidence-based medicine to minimize guesswork to improve your health. They should be participating in continuing education seminars and classes, reading current articles and clinical practice guidelines, and an active member of the physical therapy community. They should be able to explain why they are prescribing each exercise, hands-on work, or modality if they use it. You can ask for their credentials or training specifically, and you will likely also be able to tell if they're up to date. PTs who stay up to date are passionate about their work, and they want to provide the best care. They will likely reference studies and protocols in the treatment plan they are forming for you.

Do they have experience with your condition or injury?

You may look for someone who has experience with rotator cuff injuries, pelvic floor pain, or neurological conditions. If they advertise that they have a specialization, they have additional training beyond graduate school in a specific area. At Restore, Amie is a board-certified orthopedic specialist, meaning she has additional training to best treat patients with musculoskeletal conditions. A good physical therapist will also know when they aren't the best provider for you, and will provide you with a referral to a more appropriate provider.

Are they accessible?

There may be other important factors too, like where the therapist is located, or if they are available when you are. If they are not conveniently located for you, many PTs are now able to provide telehealth sessions. Talk with them to see if they accept your insurance. Some physical therapists may only operate on an out of network basis, and they should be able to provide you with a superbill, which is a receipt to submit to your insurance for reimbursement. Going to a PT that is out of network may be more beneficial, because it may allow you more time to get individualized treatment and guidance from your PT than an in-network PT may be able to provide.

We strive to provide the best care possible at Restore Physical Therapy and Wellness, and we follow all of the guidance we give above.

Call us today to see if we're a good fit for you!

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