You are the most important member of your own health care team, and you are entitled to choose the most appropriate health care professional to meet your goals. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has provided the following guidelines for choosing a physical therapist for your care.
Freedom of Choice
You have the freedom to choose your own physical therapist. Most states allow you to go directly to a physical therapist without getting a physician's referral first. Currently, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands allow patients to seek an evaluation and some level of treatment from a licensed physical therapist without a prescription or referral from a physician.
Keep in mind that your insurance policy may require a visit to the primary care physician first or may limit your access to preferred providers only.
Your physician may refer you for physical therapy that is to be provided in the physician's office, or to a facility in which the physician has a financial interest. If this is your situation, be aware that you have the right to choose your own physical therapist and that you are not obligated to receive physical therapy in any specific facility. Always insist that your physical therapy be provided by a licensed physical therapist.
Physical therapists who are members of APTA are bound by the Association's Code of Ethics and are especially committed to providing competent and compassionate care.
How to Choose a Physical Therapist
Make sure that you receive physical therapy from a licensed physical therapist. Physical therapists are professional health care providers who are licensed by the state in which they practice. If you are receiving physical therapy from a physical therapist assistant, be sure that he or she is supervised by a licensed physical therapist.
Ask the physical therapist's clinic if it participates with your insurance company. Receiving care from a participating physical therapist should minimize your financial responsibility. There may be good reasons, however, to see a physical therapist who does not participate with your insurance plan. If you need a physical therapist who has special skills related to your particular condition-or if the location or other aspects of the care or the facility meet your needs-this may be a good choice for you.
Ask whether the physical therapist's clinic will submit claims on your behalf to your insurance company. Some policies require copayments for services, and the amount of the copayment will depend on whether the physical therapist is part of the insurer's provider network. You also will have to meet your deductible. Your physical therapist's clinic should be able to help you calculate an estimate of your financial responsibilities.
Use Find A PT to locate a physical therapist in your area. Read an explanation of physical therapist degrees and credentials (PT, DPT, FAPTA, etc) in Adobe PDF.
On this site, each of the symptoms-and-conditions guides gives specific information about the type of physical therapist that can help with the particular symptom or condition.
Many physical therapists specialize in treating specific areas of the body, such as the back, neck, knee, hand, or shoulder, or they may concentrate their practice on pre- and postnatal care, sports injuries, stroke rehabilitation, or one of many other areas or physical therapy. Physical therapists may also be certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) in eight specialty areas of physical therapy: orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, neurology, women's health, and clinical electrophysiology.
Your first visit should include an evaluation by the physical therapist. Your physical therapist will perform an examination to identify current and potential problems. Based on the results of the examination, and considering your specific goals, your physical therapist will design a plan of care to include specific interventions and will propose a timetable to achieve these goals and optimize your movement and function. Your physical therapist will likely provide you with instructions to perform exercises at home to facilitate your recovery.
You should feel comfortable asking your physical therapist any questions regarding your course of care, including specifics regarding interventions and expectations.