by: Ken Guzzardo
Today more than ever, when looking for a place to try – whether a restaurant, dry cleaner, new doctor or a physical therapy company – many people will pick up their phones to see “what’s near me”.  Most times we’re flooded with more options than we want, so how do you choose which place is worth trying?  While we can’t help you choose a restaurant or dry cleaner, there are some things to consider when choosing a Physical Therapy practice that’s right for you.

When going to any medical appointment, you are trading your time and money (copay or deductible) in the belief that the interaction will help you to get better. Whether you have pain, an illness, or loss of function, the medical appointment should lead you down the right path towards recovery. Below are 6 key questions to ask when scheduling your first Physical Therapy visit and to think about on each follow up visit to make sure that you are trading your time and your money for the best services to get you back to full function.

1.  How many visits do your Physical Therapists see per hour?

Many Physical Therapy visits will overlap with another patient’s session. When therapists treat more than two patients per hour, the PT is not able to effectively watch your form during exercise and make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the exercise. She or he is not able to provide the hands-on joint mobilizations, Graston, Active release, or other manual techniques that are important to improving the tightness in muscles and joints to make the exercises effective. When you ask this question, the answer should not be more than two patients per hour. If you begin treatment and notice that the visits per hour is more than you were initially told, question your PT for a different time of day that may work better, or consider changing companies entirely.

2.  Will I work with the same PT each visit?

Your physical therapy experience should be about your relationship with the therapist and their knowledge about how the body works. All graduating Physical Therapists have a Doctorate degree now. This requires an undergraduate degree in addition to 2-3 years of schooling to obtain their Doctorate.

When you see a physician, you make a connection with that physician. You believe that physician will get you better, and you see the same physician on follow up visits because she or he knows you, your case, and what they have tried before that has worked or not worked. This relationship is even more important with your Physical Therapist. You will see your PT anywhere from 1-3 times per week, and they should be doing some kind of hands on intervention at each session. It is imperative that they know you and you know them since it is a more intimate relationship than you will have with the physician. If you are seeing a different PT each visit, the hands-on technique may be different, the treatment philosophy may be different, and your recovery may take longer because the person doesn’t know you. There is a difference between the PT knowing your diagnosis and knowing you as an individual. It matters for your recovery if the therapist knows your goal is to lift your grandchildren, run a 5K, or sit at work without pain. The same PT will get to you know and the “why” we are working with you.

3.  Will my session be with a PT or with an assistant or aide?

Physical Therapists know the body and movement inside and out, and they design your treatment plan after performing your initial evaluation. When you are doing your exercises in the treatment sessions, the movements that the PT selected are for a reason. They are designed to improve strength, flexibility, control, etc. It really matters if your arm is at a 90-degree angle versus a 70-degree angle for activities, and you want a Doctor of Physical Therapy or other movement expert to be the one supervising your exercises to make sure the exercise is being performed the correct way. Physical Therapist Assistants work closely with the PT and are also experts in exercises and hands on interventions. There are excellent teams of PTs and PTAs who work hand in hand to get their patients better.

In the State of New Jersey, a Physical Therapy aide is not permitted to make recommendations on correcting form and/or instructing patients in how to do an exercise. You are trading your time and money for a PT visit, and you should ask that a movement specialist is the one making sure you are maximizing your session.

4.  What continuing education has my Therapist taken?

Physical Therapists are required to complete 30 hours of continuing education courses every two years. Some PTs take the minimum just to remain licensed, and others shatter the required amount year after year because of their thirst for knowledge. PTs can specialize in treating different conditions based on their continuing education. You want someone working with you who has completed advanced coursework or certifications in a treatment that will help you, not someone who passed their licensure exam years ago, and now just takes the minimum to get by.

5.  Is my treatment progressing towards my goals?

Every patient is different. Two people with the same diagnosis may be trying to achieve two different things and therefore should be treated two different ways. Every treatment session should be making progress towards achieving YOUR goals with an individualized home exercise program that you can perform in between sessions. If you are performing the same exercises day in and day out for few weeks and are not seeing progress, then you should question the PT on taking a different approach to YOUR particular rehabilitation. It doesn’t take long to know that a round peg will not fit into a square hole, and your PT should be able to recommend different treatment options for you.

6.  Is my Physical Therapist teaching me?

The ultimate goal of PT is to instruct and empower you, the patient. You will learn about your condition as well as learn what exercises and/or stretches should be performed after your graduation from PT to reduce the risk of the condition returning. You should ask your PT why they are selecting certain exercises and what their hands-on interventions are trying to accomplish. This allows you to understand the rationale behind treating your particular condition and helps with reinforcing the importance of the home exercises they issued you.

There are a lot of excellent Physical Therapists and PT clinics out there, and there are some that may not be able to offer you the care that you need. You have every right to make sure you are with the right Physical Therapist, in the right environment and setting to get you better. Your physician may recommend a company that they like or refer to often or are financially vested in, but make sure that the office works for you and will not load you into an overcrowded office where you are working exclusively with an aide or a different PT each session.  When searching for “Physical Therapy near you,” consider the questions above, read patient reviews and choose the PT clinic that best meets YOUR needs.  Having the right team of physician and PT, you will get better, faster, and with less of a risk of reinjury.

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