4 Tips to Pick the Right Physical Therapist

I have the benefit of working with some awesome people in my clinic. Most of the clients I work with are active, and many of them are CrossFit athletes. I’ve had some conversations with my clients and other members of CrossFit gyms lately regarding their experiences with healthcare professionals. Some of the thoughts that have been introduced to these people are not supported by science and often highlight the medical field’s lack of understanding of fitness.


Many of these conversations lead to us discussing what to look for in a healthcare provider. How do you know who to go to? What types of things should you look for when you need a physician, physical therapist, chiropractor, etc.?


Unfortunately, most physical therapists work in high-volume clinics and are too busy to give you the proper care and attention. They may be great physical therapists, but they may simply not have the time to individualize your care and progress you appropriately. They may also be under pressure from management to meet billing and visit goals, which skews the rehab process as it becomes more about numbers then giving you what you truly need. I have worked in clinics where I would see over 20 patients per day and I was basically just trying to put out fires all day and not actually get to listen to any of my clients. Most of the time, the patient will tell us what’s wrong with them. Sometimes it’s as simple as not letting our over-educated egos get in the way and just listening to the person in front of us. I believe the most important aspect to successfully treating someone is listening.


Here are 4 tips to pick the right physical therapist:


1. Pick someone who sees no more than one person per hour.


Just like any other business, you get what you pay for in physical therapy. Most clinics will not publicize how many patients they see per hour, and some will outright lie about it. I wish it wasn’t true, but when I worked for a busy clinic years ago they would advertise one-on-one treatments so physicians would send patients their way. Meanwhile, they would schedule patients every 20 minutes and double-book patients so that each PT was typically working with 3-4 patients at any given time. This company also outright lied to me in the interview process by telling me they do not double-book and want us to provide one-on-one care, but that’s a whole other issue.


Would you go to an accountant that sets up meetings with 4 different clients at the same time? Hopefully you answered no to this question, or else I’d pray you don’t get audited. Why would it be okay for someone to treat your body (your most important asset) with less respect than an accountant gives your taxes?


Many of the physical therapists that treat patients in a one-on-one setting use a cash-bashed or out-of-network model of care. This is born out of necessity because they refuse to sacrifice the quality of care with their patients and can’t afford to see one person per hour with insurance reimbursement rates.


Medical providers with above average skills and a true passion for helping people are shifting to this model everyday. It’s good for the provider and it’s even better for the patient. It’s vital that you find someone that will treat you like they would want their own family to be treated.


If you’re doing a quick Google search in your area use keywords such as out-of-network and cash based physical therapy. Also, your physician may refer you to a physical therapist specifically. Understand that you have a choice of where you go. Knowledge is power, so doing your own research can go a long way.


2. Pick someone who specializes in hands-on care.


The act of physically putting your hands on someone is powerful. Think about when you go to see your physician. If they just sat there and looked at you, you wouldn’t feel as comfortable as you would if they listened to you breathe and your heart beat.


People get better significantly faster when I use my hands for physical therapy treatment. If you find yourself in a PT clinic where all you are getting is a hot pack, basic stretches, and electrical stimulation, then you should turn around and leave immediately. That is the wrong place for you. Places like that give physical therapy a bad name.


There are a ton of certifications in various hands-on techniques. Also good to note, you don’t need to hold a specific certification to be good at hands-on therapy. Some keywords to look for are manual therapy, dry needling, mobilizations, manipulations, trigger point therapy, and soft-tissue techniques.


3. Understand the certifications that the physical therapist has earned.


Having “alphabet soup” after your name has gotten a bad rep in the healthcare industry, mainly because some people believe that the more letters they have after their name means they are a better PT. This is simply not true. Even though there are a ton of letters after my name, I choose to only put PT, DPT on my business cards. If you look up my bio on our website, you’ll be able to read the different certifications I have earned.


So what are the importance of the letters behind a PT’s name? The certifications that we earn as physical therapists often come with extra letters to put behind your name. Like I said, this doesn’t necessarily mean we are better PT’s just because we have them. Rather, it allows us to showcase what we have spent time, money, and energy into learning to improve our level of care.


There are too many certifications to name and describe here, but you can do a quick Google search on the letters to find out what they are. Chances are that if you don’t find an answer on a quick search, then the certification is less-known and didn’t come from an established entity. It is good to find a physical therapist with certifications that match your needs (i.e. personal training certifications, orthopedic certifications, women’s health certifications, etc.).


4. Ask the physical therapist how much they can deadlift.


This one is simple. If your prospective physical therapist does not have an answer for you, then they do not deadlift. I’m not saying that they need to be able to deadlift two times their bodyweight, but if they don’t actually engage in functional exercise then it is unlikely they will understand how to get an athlete back to the activities they love.


You can take this one step further and ask how much they can snatch. Again, they don’t need to be able to snatch a heavy weight, but they should have an understanding of the movement and have done it before.


If you are a CrossFit athlete, many PTs and other healthcare providers will tell you to stop doing CrossFit. Just like telling a runner to stop running, it just isn’t going to happen. It is crucial to find a physical therapist who understands your sport and can keep you active while recovering from an injury at the same time.


If you are an athlete in the Baltimore area, then Beyond Movement PT can help. We have made it a priority to be the best physical therapy practice by listening, learning, fine-tuning, and practicing what we preach. You don’t have to live in pain. You don’t have to avoid the activities you enjoy. We help people just like you everyday get back into the gym, get back to playing with their kids, and stop waking up every morning in pain.


If you are interested in speaking with us to see if we can help you, contact us today. It would be our pleasure to get on track to get out of pain and take back control of your life.


Thank you for reading.


Corey Hall, PT, DPT

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