Is your Physical Therapist Legit? Steps and Questions to Ask Before You Schedule

So you need a physical therapist. Your back ache is relentless. Your knee pain is keeping you from running or hiking. Your daughter is trying out for varsity lacrosse this year and you don’t want her getting hurt. Whatever your reason may be, you need an appointment, but how do you choose? Let us help! Here are helpful tips on how to find a top notch PT.

Search for physical therapy in and near your zip code online, then make a list of Physical Therapy offices near you: the internet is amazing (try out Google, Bing & Yahoo)! Location is key to you actually going. Let’s be real - you’re busy! Adding on 2-3 appointments a week is stressful. If you can find a nearby clinic, that is a plus. Check out PTs near your work location as well. Maybe you can sneak over during your lunch break or head in early.

Ask around to enhance your list, but don’t jump at the first bite: Ask your friends or your co-worker who seems to always be on crutches. Ask your network to continue to build your list, but don’t blindly take their advice. Sometime one thinks his or her PT is wonderful until one experiences even better treatment.

Narrowing it down

Check out the websites of the Physical Therapy offices on your list: Website are helpful in learning more about the clinic, but what should you look for? Don’t be wooed by marketing scheme or just pretty photos. Look for “Services Offered” and “Meet Our Team”.

Services offered should be a long list! Do you see something similar to the reason you want treatment? If you have back pain, and they don’t list spine treatment or back pain that might not be the right place for you. If you are an athlete, look for sports related injuries or preventative training. “Manual Therapy” is another good phrase to see. This means that PTs are hands on. They can do adjustments and can help break up adhesions that cause you pain. If your physical therapist never touches you- that’s a red flag.

“Meet Our Team”- Read up on your therapists. Again don’t be drawn in by overly good marketing. Yeah that therapist has a nice headshot, but the other gal has 10 extra certifications and spent time on her education rather than a photo. Look for therapists who have extra credentials, fellowship experience, or relevant training for your demographic. If you are looking for PT for your elderly dad, it’s great if the therapist has experience with geriatric patients. If you’re an athlete, it’s pretty cool if your therapist played sports or has worked with teams.

Finding “the one” and putting them to the test:

Okay, you’ve narrowed down your list and done some research. Now pick up the phone and call the office. Yes, talk to a real person! He or she can actually answer your questions (and probably even gets paid to help you!!!) Amazing, amazing… But what to ask?

Insurance and Payment: If you have insurance, first ask about coverage. Sure they looked perfect online, but if they are out-of-network and they may cost you more than the arm and leg you’re trying to fix… it’s important to be very careful when making such decisions.

If you don’t have insurance or PT isn’t covered, ask how the PT clinic is willing to work with you. Some PT places do cash payments to help out clients and others are cash only. Some helpful insurance and payment questions:

  • Are you in-network / help me understand my benefits?
  • What is my co-pay?
  • Do I have co-insurance payments?
  • What is the cost per session? How many sessions should I expect for my condition?
  • Do I need pre-approval or a prescription?
  • How many appointments do I get covered under my insrance?
  • Why are you a cash only PT business?

When can I get an appointment?

A good clinic will work hard to get you in that week or following week. You are in pain and a super long wait would be brutal. Especially if you are athlete, getting in earlier can mean a world of difference in your recovery and making it back in time for the big game!

How are you different and better from the other 10 clinics near my home and workplace?

Be wary of the PT clinic’s answers and let them sell you on their practice. People, customer service and technology are a few things to look out for.

How long are your appointments with patients?

Some PT places work like a factory. They hustle through patients and have 20-30 minutes appointments and you are with your therapist for only 10 minutes. Top places have 45min treatment windows or longer.

  • How long is your initial appointment?
  • How long are your follow on appointments?
  • How much time is spent with a PT during each visit? How much with is spent with non-PTs - e.g. PTA, ATC etc.?

Do you offer preventive training programs? How about movement assessments or screenings?

You greatly decrease your risk for injury or chronic pain if you go to a PT preventatively 2x per year. Think of it like going to the dentist! We all need a tune up. Many clinics offer $20 movement analysis screenings to see if you have weaknesses or instabilities that could put you at risk for injury or overuse pains + aches. Secondly if you are already injured, working with a clinic that focuses on prevention will help you not only return to full strength but improve your overall health!

There are many great screening tests. Of course, we are a fan of the EuMotus screening! Be sure to ask if they use our 3D BodyWatch™ system. www.eumotus.com

What kind of continuing education certifications do your therapists have?

Physical therapists never stop learning, especially the best of the best. Having extra certifications show not only higher skills but also passion for client care. PTs signed up for their profession to help others. Continuing education is a strong signal of dedication Think of continuing education certifications as having different tools in the toolbox to address your injury! There are so many certification so listed are some top contenders. Below that list is a quick guide other professional certification and techniques.

  • Functional Manual Therapy (FMT): In-depth, high level training for using manual therapy (hands and other tools) to help realign, adjust and activate the body to help address issues. Whole body approach to make you move your best. Includes: Joint mobilization, soft tissue mobilization, myofascial release, neural mobilization

  • Functional Movement Screening (FMS): Training to watch you perform certain exercises and evaluate whole body instabilities, weaknesses or restrictions.

  • Active Release Techniques (ART): Specific Training for soft tissue release

  • Clinical Vestibular Therapist (CCVT/CVT) Training in balance and vertigo issues relating to the vestibular system.

  • Certified Pilates Instructor (CPT): Training for stability strengthening and core activation through pilates method.

Professional Certifications:

  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
  • Masters of Physical Therapy (MPT)
  • APTA Physical Therapy Specializations:
  • Cardiovascular Certified Specialist (CCS)
  • Geriatric Certified Specialist (GCS)
  • Neurologic Certified Specialist (NCS)
  • Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS)
  • Pediatric Certified Specialist (PCS)
  • Sports Certified Specialist (SCS)
  • Women’s Certified Specialist (WCS)
  • Electrophysiologic Certified Specialist (ECS)
  • Athletic Trainer (ATC)
  • Personal Trainer (CPT)
  • Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
  • Chiropractor (DC)
  • Yoga (CYT): Certified Yoga Trainer

Techniques:

  • McKenzie Method (MDT): Training to evaluate and treat musculoskeletal problems, especially back and neck pain.
  • Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP): Training to use rehabilitative taping to help reduce pain, provide support, and activate muscles.
  • Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM): Training to use different tools to help work on soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia..) to help release adhesions, bring in blood flow, reduce swelling. There are many different companies that provide training for their specific tools like Graston or Myo-Bar.
  • Dry Needling: Similar to acupuncture. Using needles to active nerves, release muscles, reduce pain receptors

What would a typical treatment session look like for my situation?

The response to this question will of course (and should of course) vary based on your condition. Most clinics do an evaluation your first appointment and create a plan from there.

For a normal session, they may have you come in warm up on a spin bike, work with your therapist via manual therapy, perform strengthening exercises, and recover with ice or e-stim. You want a multi-system approach focused on whole body treatment. Our bodies work as a kinetic chain meaning that deficiencies in one area can affect other area. Manual therapy helps improve alignment by break down restrictions + adhesion and joint mobilizations. Strengthening allows for proper muscle activation and correct movement patterns. Recovery helps reduce pain and aid in healing. Your therapist should help guide you through these processes to help you be your best.

What happens after my treatment is over?

Maybe the PT has a performance training offering or a relationship with a fitness or trainer across the street. Perhaps they’ll urge you to check in for preventative movement analysis screenings every few months. Having an option to stay injury free and get check ups is a positive signal.

Best of luck and happy healing and strengthening! The EuMotus Team

P.s. If you have a favorite therapist or a find clinic you love, let us know who they are by sending us a message below!