Making the most of physical therapy

Choosing the right physical therapist or clinic

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Guest post by Ken Caldwell, PT, DPT, CSCS

Physical therapy can be used to reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability in the shoulder, elbow, and many other parts of the body. Physical therapy can be prescribed in response to minor injuries or concerns, or it can be used following surgery to help restore function to a specific area.

Here are some tips for choosing the right physical therapist or clinic.

See your physician first

Oklahoma is a direct access state, which means a patient could choose to see a physical therapist directly rather than through a physician referral. However, most patients who seek physical therapy do so following a physician referral.

If you are experiencing pain or problems, the first step should be to see your doctor for an evaluation. They can discuss your symptoms, check range of motion, and order x-rays or other diagnostic tests. Then, if they feel you would benefit from physical therapy, they will write orders for physical therapy that you can take to the clinic of your choice.

Check credentials and licensure

While physical therapy may seem like a broad term, it’s a specific type of therapy performed only by trained and licensed physical therapists. Before you choose a therapist or clinic, be sure to ask about their credentials and training. You can also go to the Oklahoma Medical Board of Licensure and search by last name to confirm you will be seeing a licensed physical therapist.

When checking credentials, you may find a lot of letters after someone’s name. The abbreviation PT means physical therapist (although it’s also sometimes used by personal trainers), DPT indicates the person has a doctorate of physical therapy, and CSCS stands for certified strength and conditioning specialist. In general, more credentials after someone’s name indicate that they have additional schooling or expertise in the field.

Another option is to check and see if your therapist is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association, which is the credentialing society for physical therapists. You can use their Find a PT feature to locate members of the APTA by zip code. Membership in the professional society helps ensure the therapist you see is up to date with the most current research and techniques, although it’s not mandatory for a licensed physical therapist to be a member.

Visit a couple of clinics

When it comes to what clinic to use, the choice is yours. Some people choose a physical therapy clinic based on the recommendation of their doctor. Others choose a clinic based on how close it is to work or home, which can help with scheduling or situations where it’s uncomfortable to sit in a car or you’re unable to drive yourself to therapy.

Drop by the clinic and ask to look around and meet some of the therapists. It’s not a consultation specifically, but most clinics should be able to give you a quick tour of the facility and answer any questions you have about the process. Is the staff friendly? Does it feel comfortable? You may be going to physical therapy for several weeks or longer, so it’s important to find a clinic where you feel comfortable.

Verify your insurance coverage

The clinic you plan to use may request your name, date of birth, and insurance information to call and verify your insurance coverage in advance. This may include verifying the copay amount, what percent of each session is covered, and if there’s a limit on the number of sessions.

If your doctor writes an order for 12 physical therapy sessions but your insurance only allows 10, it’s helpful to know that up front. For people who have limited coverage for physical therapy, a therapist may be able to show you some exercises to do at home in between sessions.

Start physical therapy when cleared by your physician

In some cases, patients who are referred for therapy may start immediately. Patients who need physical therapy following surgery will typically need to be cleared by their surgeon prior to starting therapy. This is typically done at a post-operative appointment with your surgeon.