How to Choose a Physical Therapist

Story by Mimi Greenwood Knight

After an injury or surgery, physical therapy is often a critical factor on your road to recovery. You may also see a physical therapist (PT) for lingering aches or pains. PTs specialize in exploring the root cause of such issues by manipulating the body to help heal itself and educate patients about exercises they can do themselves to foster healing. Since physical therapy can be a weekly commitment for an extended period, convenience is an important consideration. But it shouldn’t be the only one. Taking time to do your homework and find the right PT should be your first step toward recovery.

Begin by asking friends, family, health care providers, and/or health insurance for recommendations. Then investigate the credentials and educational background of each. Most US PTs receive Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees in a three-year post-graduate program with a curriculum that includes anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and exercise science. They complete clinical work and are mentored and evaluated by practicing therapists while treating patients with various conditions.

Look for a PT with additional post-degree education. This might include continuing education, certifications, specializations, and/or residency programs. For example, many PTs choose to complete a certification in manual therapy or dry needling. Others complete a residency program in a particular specialization. Residencies are typically 12 to 18 months of additional didactic and mentored learning. Consider a PT who’s completed additional training in the area of care you require.

Now, it’s time to visit a few of the PTs you’re considering. Your visit should begin with a comprehensive exam, evaluating your reasons for the visit and your hope for treatment outcomes. Your PT will likely perform active techniques such as guided and supervised exercises and passive techniques which the therapist administers to you, such as stretches to your muscles and joints and modalities like heat, electrical stimulation, topical analgesics, and ultrasound. Care typically begins with primarily passive techniques, then progresses to a more active program. Your PT should explain how your treatment program is individualized to your body, goals, and lifestyle and progress toward more active modalities.

You may want to consider an office that offers telehealth options. This might include some face-to-face time and as much telecare as possible while still helping you toward your goals. And as with any health care professional, you should have a good rapport with your PT. They should listen to your concerns, communicate in a way you understand, and be open to feedback from you. They should involve you in your care and challenge you while setting reasonable goals. They should dedicate time to making sure you’re working on something relevant to you and your lifestyle and adjust your treatment as you progress and improve.


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