Your fractured leg is healed and your physician is writing a referral for physical therapy. You groan at the thought of doing tortuous exercises to re-gain strength and more mobility. Then you realize your bigger issue is which physical therapist (PT) to choose. You can name six therapy organizations in your area, and you’re not sure how they different. All their ads and websites claim they are be “the best.”
First, understand there are a lot of caregivers out there who offer “therapy,” but not all are qualified physical therapists. As highly educated, licensed professionals, physical therapists are experts is in reducing pain, increasing mobility and functionality and improving strength. They also work with patients in creating proactive programs to help increase fitness or prevent physical disability.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association a physical therapist earns a graduate degree (either a master’s or clinical doctorate) from an accredited PT program before taking a state-administered national exam that allows him or her to practice. You may notice that most physical therapists today have the credentials DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) behind their name, as the vast majority of the physical therapy education programs offer this advanced degree.
Physical therapists work in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, schools, fitness centers and outpatient medical centers. Some own their practices.
Certification by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties shows that a physical therapist has proven to be an expert in an area of care. The eight specialty areas of physical therapy that ABPTS certifies are: orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, neurology, women’s health, and clinical electrophysiology. That specialty certification does make a difference for patients. Research shows that more experienced physical therapists with orthopedic or sports certifications have greater knowledge in managing musculoskeletal conditions than physical therapists without specialty certification.
Most physical therapists continue to learn throughout their careers and may become certified in specialized techniques like the McKenzie Method an evaluation and treatment process for people with low back pain and neck pain. They may incorporate the Graston Technique or Pilates exercises into a care plan.
Physical therapy assistants also are licensed professional who may assist a physical therapist with your care. They will help execute your care plan under the guidance of the physical therapist. Physical therapy aides are not licensed to provide care and may only prepare therapeutic modalities and help the patient move from the waiting room and into the care area.
A good question to ask is how many patients will my physical therapist oversee in the same time slot. Will you receive the personalized attention you need to meet your PT goals? The therapist should be overseeing your therapy visits, checking your progress and making adjustments to your care plan. If you feel you don’t interact with your physical therapist enough during your visits and only see the PT assistant or an aid, don’t hesitate to ask for more time with the physical therapist.
Here is a checklist to consider when selecting a physical therapist and facility:
___ Physical therapist is licensed and board certified
___ Physical therapist offers the specialized care that I need for my condition
___ I am the only patient the therapist will see in my time slot.
__ The facility is clean, accessible and has advanced equipment (therapy and exercise machines like the AlterG® Anti-Gravity Treadmill®)
___ My care plan will be created and overseen by the physical therapist, with PT assistants and aids supporting the physical therapist.
__ The facility’s operating hours work with my schedule.
___ The facility accepts my insurance and will submit insurance claims on your behalf.
__ I am aware of my insurance deductible and co-pay amount for each visit.
__ I feel comfortable talking to my physical therapist and asking questions about my care.<
You have a legal right to select your own physical therapist, so do the research. And keep in mind that traveling a little bit out of your way for the right physical therapist may maximize your recovery, strength and mobility. Your grade school teacher was right – doing your homework will pay off.
If you’re interested in finding a therapist that can offer the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill as part of your rehab program, visit AlterG.com.