When your doctor recommends physical rehabilitation, it is a prescription to help you gain mobility and functioning for daily living skills.

Why see a physical therapist?

Physical therapists can help you to recover your strength and mobility after an injury, such as in an auto accident or work-related injury. They can also treat many acute or chronic pain conditions, such as back pain, joint sprains, and strains, or osteoarthritis.

As people age, physical therapists can also help them maintain or even increase their flexibility and mobility and teach them how to avoid falls, broken bones, and other common problems associated with aging, such as poor posture and impaired balance. Many facilities also have programs to help athletes and non-athletes alike to increase their strength, agility and general physical fitness levels.

Who makes the decision about which physical therapist a patient should see?

Ultimately, this decision rests with the patient. The doctor who is treating your condition may recommend a physical therapist, but the patient is free to choose. Many people don’t realize that they can also seek out the services of a physical therapist without a referral by a physician, but Michigan’s state laws allow an evaluation only. For further treatments to be rendered, a physician’s prescription must accompany the client.

How does a patient choose a physical therapist?

There are many factors to consider when deciding which physical therapist should treat you for your condition.

• Insurance—Check to make sure that the physical therapy facility you are considering is a participating provider for your health insurance company. Some insurance companies require a specific setting, such as a hospital-based provider, for physical therapy services to be covered. The staff at the facility you are considering can verify your insurance coverage.

• Size of the facility—A practice with a larger number of therapists is more likely to have one who specializes in treating your type of injury or condition. In addition, therapists with different specialties can collaborate in the treatment of a patient to help ensure the best outcome.

• Training and credentials—Inquire about how long the facility has been in business and how much experience the therapists and staff members have with treating your type of injury. See if a specialist in your area of need, such as hand, spine or knee therapy, is available to work with you. Working with a highly specialized therapist will help you get the best outcome in the shortest amount of time.

Make sure that the support staff is also properly trained and certified by asking if you will be seen by a licensed physical therapist. Some facilities utilize a licensed physical therapist to evaluate your condition and then pass you on to a “technician” who may not have a collegiate degree specializing in rehabilitation. Therapists and support staff should receive continued education and training throughout their careers to keep current with new treatment approaches.

• Visit to the facility—Pay a visit to the facility you are considering. See how many patients are at the clinic and how many cars are in the parking lot. A busy clinic with lots of patients is a good indicator that the facility has a respected reputation. Make sure, however, that the facility has sufficient staff so that patients are not kept waiting for appointments.

Consider how you are greeted and served by the staff. They should be polite and pleasant—the kind of people you will want to work with over the course of your treatment. Most facilities welcome prospective patients to come and see what they have to offer. Make sure that the facility is clean and well-equipped. Look for a combination of communal treatment/exercise rooms and private rooms for individual therapy sessions.

• Patient and physician referrals—Your doctor may recommend a specific therapist or facility. Get other referrals, as well, from your friends and family members who have had physical therapy, and talk to patients of the facility you are considering to get their feedback and recommendations.

Many patients who are satisfied with their therapist and the facility feel a sense of camaraderie among the patients, as well as the staff members. In a warm, supporting environment, patients are encouraged by the therapists, as well as by their fellow patients to strive toward improvement of their condition.