Physical therapy can be the key to rapid recovery from injuries, prevention of injuries and relief of pain. Choosing an excellent physical therapist can make all the difference to a patient's outcome. However, just as with any profession, the level of competence varies amongst physical therapists. In fact, the range of quality is distressingly wide. To help you find a good physical therapist, here's a guide to what we look for when hiring physical therapists, outlining the skills we expect them to bring to the patient and to the doctor.
First, a physical therapist must have great interpersonal skills and truly love caring for patients. We look for like-minded people to join our team, whose primary goal in their professional life is to assist and inspire people to be better than they ever have been. To achieve this, each physical therapist must encompass:
Great manual skills: Every successful physical therapist uses their hands to mobilize, manipulate, produce motion and improve function that cannot be accomplished just by stretching, strengthening or other sorts of exercises. It is the knowledge and application of these skills that can set physical therapists apart. The use of hands mobilizes scar tissue in a fashion that leads to normal healing. Hands can sense areas of inflammation, pain, and motion restrictions. Hands must be both powerful and gentle.
Great diagnostic skills: As an orthopedic surgeon, I learn from my physical therapists information that I would never know from my exam alone. The physical therapists spend more time with patients, hear more information than the patient might tell me, and see issues from their training perspective. When we discuss patients before they are treated, the questions the physical therapists ask illuminate subtle mechanical interactions that must be addressed to achieve a great outcome. After working with patients, the physical therapists diagnostic skills often highlight contributing factors to the original cause of injury and help us design total body recovery and rehabilitation programs.
Great communication skills: Regular physical therapy appointments can only be satisfying for both parties if the information flow is smooth and informative. Also, case discussions with me and with the nursing team help us all to keep connected to the patient throughout their recovery time.
Appropriate fitness training: Physical therapy is more than just exercise to recover from an injury. Fitness training to avoid injury, during the recovery time, and after determines the likelihood of the patient achieving the “better than they were before they were injured” status. At our clinic incorporating CrossFit and other fitness program principles has helped our elite athletes and our weekend warriors.
Great continuing education: There are a number of classes and courses that we require our physical therapists to complete during their career. Ongoing education from a variety of leaders in the physical therapist education field is crucial to staying at the top of the field. The primary focus is to stay current on manual therapy treatment techniques and theory, as well as the latest techniques in gait training, joint mobilization, orthotics and foot mechanics, cervical and spinal mobilization skills etc.
Because our therapists have these skills, patients benefit physically, mentally and spiritually and my care of them is amplified to a level not possible without the team approach. The fact that we work together, in the same space, discuss each patient before and often after treatments, makes it efficient for the patients and a great experience for all involved in helping people excel.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments. For more info, visit www.stoneclinic.com.