• Choosing Your Physical Therapist

    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. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of direct access to physical therapist services without a physician's referral.

    Keep in mind, however, 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 therapist services from a physical therapist assistant, be sure that he or she is licensed or certified as required by state law and that the care is being directed and 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 that 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 may depend on whether the physical therapist is part of the insurer's provider network. You also will have to meet your deductible, which is the portion of medical costs you will need to pay before the insurance benefit begins. While the physical therapy clinic should be able to help you calculate an estimate of your financial responsibilities, it is recommended you contact the insurance company directly prior to initiating treatment to verify out-of-pocket costs. Click here for additional information regarding the deductible and other insurance terms.

    Use Find a PT to locate a physical therapist in your area. Read an explanation of physical therapist education 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.

    During the search process, you may find it helpful to review clinic websites for hours of operation, specialties offered, physical therapist credentials, and financial policy.

    Specialization

    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 prenatal and postpartum care, sports injuries, stroke rehabilitation, or one of many other areas of physical therapy. Physical therapists may also be certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) in 8 specialty areas of physical therapy: orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, neurology, women's health, and clinical electrophysiology.

    Your First Appointment

    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 may provide you with instructions for care 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.

    Physical therapists are highly educated, licensed health care professionals who help patients improve, restore, or maintain mobility; in many cases helping patients reduce pain, and avoid the need for surgery and the long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects.

    Physical therapists examine, evaluate, and treat patients whose conditions limit their ability to move and function in daily life. Your physical therapist's overall goal is to maintain, restore, or improve your mobility and help reduce your pain.

    In all states, you can make an appointment with a physical therapist without a physician referral. Whether this is your first visit or you've been treated by a physical therapist in the past, there are things you can do to make your visit as successful as possible.