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How to Find the Best Physical Therapy So You Can Feel Your Best

Physical Therapy Sugar House

Physical therapy (PT) is a valuable tool for people of all ages with a wide variety of conditions. You can find PT at hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, sports medicine centers, private offices, and more. But with so many conditions that could require PT, and so many places that offer it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed during your search to find the best possible place to go.

"Physical therapy can improve quality of life in regard to people’s daily function and activities," says Kim Cohee, PT, DPT, senior director of Outpatient Therapy Services for University of Utah Health.

PT can be beneficial for:

  • Athletes recovering from a sports injury
  • Pain relief
  • Rehab after an accident or unexpected injury or surgery
  • Postpartum recovery
  • Adapting to an artificial limb
  • Learning to use assistive devices like a cane or walker
  • Managing chronic illnesses like arthritis or diabetes
  • Preventing future injuries

Finding the perfect PT

Consider your condition and goals while searching for a qualified physical therapist. According to Cohee, many therapists practice in general musculoskeletal orthopedics and see a range of problems—whether it be shoulder, knee, hip, ankle, or other parts of the body. Some practices have specialists who focus on particular activities or parts of the body, but one area that a specialist would be preferred is pelvic floor therapy, since that may include an internal exam.

"Most of the time, I think it’s important to find somebody who is just willing to listen and spend one-on-one time with you during your care," Cohee says.

Prepping for PT

Before your first visit, write down any symptoms you have and how long you’ve had them. Be sure to note whether these symptoms are due to a recent stressful event. Next, think of your goals for your time in PT. Do you want to be able to walk around the block pain-free? Run a marathon in six months? Write down these objectives and any questions you have. This information will help the therapist tailor the best possible plan for you.

What to expect during your first session

Every patient will go through a PT evaluation at their first appointment. You will be asked questions about your medical history, so be prepared to share information about:

  • Any medications you are taking
  • Injuries past and present
  • Recent accidents or stressful events
  • Your home and work environment
  • Medical conditions of immediate family members, such as parents and siblings

Your first appointment will also include a physical assessment. Depending on your symptoms, your therapist may observe your posture, strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. They may also check vital functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate. "The therapist will observe your movement, strength, reflexes, and overall function—whether it’s watching you walk, jump, or throw," Cohee says.

If you’ve just had surgery, your physical therapist may teach you how to properly move the area until it’s healed and discuss pain management with you. The therapist may also talk with you about your goals so that they can create a treatment plan.

Getting the most bang for your buck

Doing your homework is critically important to getting the most benefit from PT. Part of your treatment will be learning exercises to carry out at home on a regular basis, and performing these as prescribed will help you recover and prevent future injuries. Your physical therapist is your partner in managing your health and mobility. "They can be an integral part in keeping you maximally functional throughout your life," Cohee says.