Choosing a Physical Therapist

Who are Physical Therapists?
Physical therapists are dedicated and highly-educated, licensed health care professionals. Their role in healthcare is to assist patients with pain reduction, and improve or restore mobility. In many instances, the techniques that physical therapists use can result in the avoidance of surgery and can reduce the need for long-term use of prescription medications.

Physical therapists want their patients to achieve long-term health benefits. They can teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition to achieve optimum results.  After examining a patient, PTs will develop a plan of action, utilizing a variety of treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, prevent disability and restore function.  As advocates for a healthy lifestyle, physical therapists work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing wellness and fitness programs for the achievement of healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists treat a variety of patients including children and older adults. They also work with individuals recovering from an accident or surgery. Some physical therapists specialize in certain types of patients and age groups.

Where do Physical Therapists Practice?

  • Outpatient clinics or offices (also known as Private Practice)
  • Hospitals
  • Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
  • Skilled nursing, extended care or sub-acute facilities
  • Home Health
  • Schools/Preschools
  • Hospice
  • Industrial, workplace or other occupational environments
  • Fitness centers and sports training facilities
  • Local, State and Federal government
  • Research Centers

What are the Educational Requirements for becoming a Physical Therapist?
All physical therapists must receive a graduate degree - either a masters or clinical doctorate - from an accredited physical therapist education program before taking the national licensure exam that allows them to practice.
Two degree levels are currently offered in physical therapist education programs:

  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree
  • Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) or Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT)

See more about Understanding Physical Therapy Degrees

What are the Licensure Requirements for becoming a Physical Therapist?
After graduation, candidates must pass a state-administered national exam. Other requirements for physical therapy practice vary from state to state according to physical therapy practice acts or state regulations that govern physical therapy.

How to Choose a Physical Therapist
Contrary to popular belief, you have the freedom to choose your own physical therapist. Most states allow individuals to go directly to a physical therapist without obtaining a referral from a physician.
Keep in mind that your health insurance policy may require an initial visit to your primary care physician or may limit your access to their preferred list of providers only.

Seek the services of a physical therapist that can help you with your condition. Many PTs specialize in treating specific areas of the body such as the knee, back, shoulder or hand. They may even have specialty concentrations in the areas of pre- and postnatal care, stroke rehabilitation or injuries related to sports.

Use PREFERRED’s Provider Locator to find highly qualified providers in your area.
Some physicians refer physical therapists who work in the physician’s office or at a facility where the physician has a financial interest. You are not obligated to receive physical therapy in any specific facility and that you have the right to choose your own physical therapist.

Always make sure that your physical therapy is provided by a licensed physical therapist. Physical therapists are professional health care providers and they are licensed by the state in which they practice. If you receive physical therapy from a physical therapy assistant (PTAs) be sure that the PTA is supervised by a licensed physical therapist.

Once you have chosen a physical therapist, make certain to inquire if the clinic participates with your health insurance company as this should minimize your out-of-pocket financial responsibility.  Many physical therapists list the insurance plans that they participate in on their websites; but you should always call the clinic as this information may not be up to date.

There are some circumstances where it might make sense to see a physical therapist who does not participate in your health insurance plan. Some of those circumstances could include special skills related to your particular health issue, or if the clinic location is more convenient for you.

Inquire whether the physical therapy clinic submits health insurance claims on the behalf of their patients. Some policies require co-payments at the time of service and the amount of the co-pay will depend on whether the physical therapist is a part of the insurer’s provider network.

You may also have to meet your deductible, which can vary from health plan to health plan.

Always ask for an estimate of your financial responsibility prior to seeking treatment.

Your first office visit should include an evaluation by the physical therapist to identify current and/or potential conditions. Based on the examination results, the PT will develop a plan of care that will include specific exercises or routines and will propose a timetable to achieve the goals and optimize mobility, movement and function.  Often, patients will be required to continue a course of care at home in between office visits to facilitate recovery.
Always make sure to ask questions. Your health and wellness and ultimate recovery depends upon how well you and your physical therapist communicate.

Use PREFERRED’s Provider Locator to find highly qualified providers in your area.

Who are Physical Therapists?
Choosing your Physical Therapist:
Preparing for your Visit with a Physical Therapist:
Symptoms & Conditions that can be helped by Physical Therapists:
For more information on physical therapists, visit the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website: