The importance of making sure you’re receiving high-quality PT
As we step into 2022, we have more choices than ever when it comes to health, fitness, and wellness. Physical therapy is no exception, and it’s imperative that the patient play an active role in choosing their therapist to ensure one receives the best care possible. In order to play an active role, knowing what to look for is step one. In this article, you will find a list of green flags to guide your search so that you can feel confident your physical therapy experience, whether it be in-person or digital, is of the highest caliber.
1. Your provider is a licensed physical therapist (PT).
The very first criterion your provider should meet is that they are truly a physical therapist with a license to treat patients. This may seem obvious, but it can become confusing as some individuals and companies will utilize titles such as health coaches, personal trainers, or fitness experts to fill roles that are somewhat similar to physical therapists but do not require the same educational background, specific training, and licensure process.
Always check the credentials of your potential therapist. The designation of PT is for someone who has passed the physical therapy licensing exam and thus obtained a license to practice physical therapy and treat patients. Sometimes those in the health and fitness industry may misuse the title PT, which can be misleading. For this reason, it’s also important to look for educational designations including DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) or MPT (Masters of Physical Therapy). While physical therapy programs have shifted to a DPT curriculum, those who earned an MPT prior to this change and have successfully passed the licensing exam are also qualified clinicians who have met the rigorous educational and licensing requirements to treat patients.
2. Your PT performs a thorough, holistic evaluation.
High-quality physical therapy considers the whole person. In order to create an effective and unique plan of care, your therapist should perform a thorough initial evaluation. This first meeting will allow your therapist to get to know your medical background, prior injuries, surgical history, and what your personal goals are for therapy. A green flag in the beginning is a therapist who wants to get to know your lifestyle and understands there are a wide variety of factors that impact their treatment plan for you.
3. Graduating PT is the ultimate goal.
While PTs love treating patients, the best ones know that the ultimate goal is to discharge, or graduate, their patients – because that means the patient has reached their goals! Your physical therapist should be able to clearly outline your anticipated prognosis with the end goal of discharging you from PT to continue the exercises and healthy habits you have learned on your own. If you have been in PT for months on end with little change and your therapist has not discussed different approaches with you or they have led you to believe PT is neverending, it’s time to look elsewhere.
4. Modalities and manual therapy are not the primary focus.
Using ultrasound, electrical stimulation, taping, heat, and massage can provide temporary relief in some patients. However, these interventions should not be the primary drivers of your plan of care, nor should they be the sole reason for continuous PT. The foundation of your treatment should be a solid exercise program, balanced with the appropriate use of modalities. Additionally, a major green flag is that your therapist will educate you on how to use heat, ice, e-stim, or perform self-massage on your own, with inexpensive equipment you can purchase as a patient! It’s important that your therapist communicates with you that long-lasting results come from doing the hard work of consistent exercise. While it may sound daunting, it certainly pays off.
5. Your exercise program is customized to you and frequently adapted.
Creating a customized home exercise program (HEP) tailored to your needs is key. This program should be dynamic, changing as you progress whether it be by increasing resistance, reps, and sets or adding more challenging exercises. Likewise, your therapist should modify the exercises accordingly given your feedback in conjunction with their clinical judgement – that may mean removing an exercise or performing a different variation of it that is more comfortable for you. Every exercise should be something you can perform at home, not just in the clinic. Bonus points if your PT uses a digital HEP with video explanations!
6. Your therapist encourages a two-way dialogue and open communication.
Great physical therapy occurs when the patient and therapist work together as a team. Your PT should actively listen, ask for your feedback, and encourage you to ask questions. You should feel comfortable approaching your PT with all concerns and be able to trust the responses you receive are unbiased, medically accurate, and honest. This is particularly important when discussing pain. Pain is extremely personal and should be treated as such. Your PT should be able to educate you on appropriate levels of pain and discomfort that may arise during movement given your specific diagnosis and implement your feedback so that you feel heard. The goal is to empower you with pain education so that you feel more confident in your exercises, not minimize your experience. Major green flags are empathy and listening skills!
Questions you can ask to hone in on green flags!
- What muscle is this exercise targeting?
- How do you as a therapist approach pain with your patients?
- How long should I expect to be in PT before I can continue my exercises on my own?
- How does this exercise translate into meeting my goals?
- How do my existing medical conditions impact my plan of care?
- Can you tell me more about my surgery/specific condition so I can understand better?
For more information and insights about physical therapy, be sure to check out our youtube channel!
Currently searching for a high-quality PT? Download the OneStep Digital Physical Therapy app to automatically be connected with one of our licensed therapists who embody all the green flags mentioned above!