) Picking the right physical therapist is extremely important to ensure you get the best care for your needs. Before we get into picking the right PT, I want to make sure everyone reading this knows that as a patient you have a choice in who you can go see when it comes to your physical therapy needs. While physicians are a great resource, they likely are unfamiliar with all the physical therapists in your area. Most patients that are referred to physical therapy by a physician will trust their physician’s recommendation and go see that physical therapist. It’s important to understand that you don’t necessarily have to follow that recommendation. I also recommend that a patient should take a few minutes to research the recommended physical therapist, as well as a few others in the area to get a better idea of which physical therapist will be the right fit for their condition and goals. The internet has loads of information available, and it would be a shame to under utilize this tool while selecting a physical therapist. After all we use the internet to find dentists, hair dressers, attorneys, accountants and all kinds of other services that we as consumers use every day. So why should physical therapy be any different?
Looking for a physical therapist?
When looking for a physical therapist, you should look for a match that is familiar with you main complaint as a patient (this could be pain, difficulty getting in and out of the car, or poor mobility) and the goals you have. You wouldn’t go see a cardiovascular surgeon for a broken arm, and you wouldn’t go see a hip and knee replacement specialist for your torn rotator cuff. Physical therapists practice in different areas, and have expertise and specializations just like other healthcare providers. If you are a runner seeking care for your knee pain, make sure you find a physical therapist who has experience working with runners dealing with knee pain. If your therapist is familiar with your injury, and then understand the mechanics and steps necessary to help you get back to your specific goals (in this case running pain free) then the better results you will likely have. This is why it’s so important that you do a little research prior to scheduling your first physical therapy appointment. The physical therapist your physician or friend referred you to may be fantastic, but they may not understand running or Olympic lifting.
Physical therapists are primary care
In some instances, seeking a physical therapist first may be the best route to making sure you get the best care possible. In my clinic here in Cary NC, the bulk of patients we see come to us prior to seeing any other healthcare provider. The reason for this is because as physical therapists with doctoral training, we can identify when a patient can benefit from our services, and when we need to refer them to another healthcare professional who is more appropriate. Most people are seeking out physical therapy because they are having pain or difficulty performing activities that are important to them. Rest and taking anti-inflammatories may help with the pain for a short period of time, but they very rarely correct the underlying issue that caused the problem in the first place. Picking the right “primary care physical therapist” can also play a huge role in making sure you receive the outcomes you are hoping for as a patient. If you see a physical therapist who is not familiar with running injuries, they may tell you to rest and maybe try a new sport. In that physical therapists eyes, they have solved the problem, because the method of rest and activity modification works for certain types of patients and problems. However, for a runner this solution is unacceptable. They want to return to running, so they may reluctantly listen to the physical therapists advice, or completely ignore it. In this scenario no one benefits because the patient won’t get better, and the physical therapist will feel discouraged that they didn’t help solve the patient’s problem.
Get the right physical therapist
So when looking for a physical therapist make sure you look for one that can help you reach your goals. Physical therapists practice in plenty of different areas like neurological rehab, pediatrics, geriatrics, wound care, and orthopedics or sports. So take a little time to research, identify your goals, and find the right physical therapist for you.
About the author:
Dr. Kevin Prue PT, DPT, CSCS is a graduate of Duke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. He is the president and director of Prue Physical Therapy & Sports Performance located in Cary NC. He specializes sports and orthopedic physical therapy, sports performance training and injury prevention for youth and recreational athletes.