When most people think of physical therapy, it is something that you get after a surgery or something an orthopedic specialist sends you to before or after imaging. But times are changing, and people are looking for more conservative forms of care, trying to avoid surgery and medications. People are also looking for any way to avoid injury.
This means physical therapy is a major player in the health and wellness field right now. Whether you experienced a big injury or just have a few aches and pains you want to eliminate, physical therapy can definitely help you. The question now becomes, is all physical therapy the same? Or how do you know you're at the right physical therapy clinic for you?
All Physical Therapy Is Not Created Equal
Take it from someone who has worked in several different types of outpatient clinics- they are not all the same. While I believe that all physical therapists are doing their best to get you better, we are all ultimately limited by two things: our experiences and our environment.
Every physical therapist has different experiences that improve their ability to treat different people. We all have different clinical and life experiences we bring to the table, from the activities we do to the continuing education we pursue. If you are in a sport or do any working out -regardless of how competitive- and you want to return to that activity, it is imperative that you find a physical therapist who specializes in athletes.
Find a physical therapist who has experience in your sport AND works out themselves. This will ensure your physical therapist is familiar with the demands you place on your body and can appropriately guide you back into those activities.
Our environment is the clinic and the management itself. As someone who always wanted to work with an active population, I was not always supported in this goal. From limitations on the continuing education I could take to limitations on the equipment provided in the clinic, it was very difficult to treat in a way I knew would be effective. Weights in a "traditional" physical therapy clinic often only reach 10lb dumbbells. That's not effective to improve the strength of an older adult who needs to carry in their groceries, a worker who lifts 50lbs for their job all day, or the powerlifter who deadlifts 500lbs.
Ten pounds is just enough to get you pain free. You'll be at the point in your care that you don't have pain, maybe you've even started light training again. But your physical therapist isn't familiar with the lifts you do and can't guide you back into lifting, so the second you start trying to lift heavy again, it all comes back. Maybe you go back to that same clinic, get out of pain again, try to lift heavy, the pain comes back, and the cycle continues until you decide lifting heavy is "too dangerous" and you'll stick to light weights or (tragically) stop lifting all together.
Sound familiar? You didn't fail PT and lifting isn't too dangerous, you were just at the wrong clinic for your goals.
How Do You Pick the Right Clinic and Therapist?
There's a few things you can do before you even step into the clinic for your visit:
Look at the website. The clinic website should have a bio for all the physical therapists who work there. Check and see if any of those therapists list your sport in their bio, if so you know they have the experience to help you achieve your goals. Request that therapist when you make your appointment.
Call the clinic. If there isn't a bio for the therapists, call and ask! They should be able to tell you about the therapists there and if they can help you. This would also be a good time to ask if they have a barbell in their clinic to make sure they take strengthening seriously- regardless of what sport you do.
These will give you a good idea of the clinic's dedication to working with an active population.
Once you're at the clinic, take a look around. Are the therapists working with multiple people at the same time? That's a big red flag. When a therapist has divided attention, they can't deliver the care you need to get better as fast as possible. When I was a student at a high volume clinic, I had a client I worked with regularly for their low back pain. My clinical ended in September, I graduated, and started a job there in January. That same client was still there and his exercises hadn't been progressed in the 3-4 months I had been gone. Because those therapists were so overworked, it was easier for them to let the client do the exercises they already knew instead of progressing or teaching something new.
If the therapists at a clinic are overworked, your care will suffer and it will take much longer for you to return to your activity. Save yourself time and money, and start at a clinic that treats one-on one from the beginning. Most of these clinics are out-of-network to make sure they can pay their bills while maintaining a higher standard of care. This sounds expensive and intimidating, but trust me it is WAY cheaper than paying your copay 2-3 times a week for 3-4 months without progression or improvement.
Curious About How to Find Care Like This Near You?
Reach out to Dr. Sam by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @dr.sam_dpt and she will help you find quality physical therapy near you, because you deserve the best care out there.