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How to Choose a Physical Therapist

Not All Rehabilitation Facilities Are Created Equal

New York, NY—July 2, 2014

After an injury or surgery, rehabilitation is often a critical factor on the road to recovery. "Since physical therapy is usually a weekly commitment and may be for an extended period of time, convenience is an important consideration," says JeMe Cioppa-Mosca, vice president of Rehabilitation at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "However, many other factors should also be taken into account when deciding where to go. Not all facilities provide the same type or level of care."

"It's important for people to do their homework before choosing a facility," said Robin Benick, clinical supervisor of the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Network. The network, which marked its 20th anniversary this yearPhysical Therapist Aija Paegle at Hospital for Special Surgery stretches patient, is a resource for individuals looking for a facility in their community that meets high standards of care. Information is available about PT practices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida that belong to the network.

"Many people don't realize the importance of choosing the right therapist and the right facility for their needs," Cioppa-Mosca says. "Recovery from an injury is hard work. Although most physical therapists are well-trained and provide good care, practices are not all the same. Falling into the wrong hands can do more harm than good."

"Physical therapy is a balance between science, art and experience. Certain physical therapists have special areas of interest and additional training in certain techniques," explained James F. Wyss, MD, PT, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Physician Office in Uniondale, Long Island and at the main hospital in Manhattan. A physiatrist is a medical doctor specializing in nonsurgical treatment of muscle and joint problems.

"The right therapist can make all the difference between failure and success," he says. "But patients also need to understand that they are responsible for their recovery as well. They need to work together with their physical therapist, communicate openly, and follow their advice, as well as the advice of their physician."

It's important to find a physical therapist with whom you have a good rapport, according to Benick. "Communication is key. It's a partnership," she says.

People may receive a recommendation from their doctor or from a friend who had a positive experience. But it's up to many individuals to find a rehab center on their own. Practices may have areas of special expertise, and some physical therapists have additional credentials. Some may focus more on sports medicine, while others may specialize in rehabilitation for neck and back problems or after joint replacement. Certified specialties range from pediatric to geriatric physical therapy.

Cioppa-Mosca and Benick offer the following tips when choosing a physical therapy practice:

  • Choose the right practice for your needs. Call the facility and ask questions to make sure there are physical therapists with expertise in treating your particular problem.
  • Ask who will be treating you and how much experience the therapist has. Once you begin physical therapy, make sure you're receiving care from a licensed physical therapist or a licensed physical therapy assistant.
  • Choose a location that is convenient to where you live or work.
  • Try to set up a time to take a tour of the facility before beginning therapy. A reputable practice should have no problem arranging a quick visit.
  • Note if the facility is clean and well-maintained. Are therapists washing their hands between patients?
  • Consider what the atmosphere is like. Are therapists and therapy assistants actively working with patients, or are people standing around waiting to be treated?
  • Are people working there wearing a name badge with their job title? They are required to do so in many states, including New York.
  • Inquire about the cancellation policy. Some facilities charge a fee for cancelling an appointment.
  • Consider how quickly you can get an appointment. If you need to wait more than a week or two, you may be better off finding a facility where you can start sooner, especially if you've had recent surgery.
  • If health insurance is an important consideration for you, make sure the practice accepts your insurance.
  • If you require special equipment, such as a pool, make sure it is available at the facility.


Once you begin physical therapy, the experts stress that you'll do best with someone with whom you get along well. They also point out that you should be evaluated and treated by a licensed physical therapist. Physical therapy assistants are also trained, licensed professionals, and your therapist may work with an assistant to provide your care.

You should not be receiving treatment from an unlicensed physical therapy aide or technician, according to Benick. Aides help physical therapists with tasks such as basic administrative duties, getting treatment areas ready and escorting patients within the clinic, but they are not legally permitted to provide treatment or instruct patients in exercises. If you're not sure of the credentials of the person treating you, you have the right to ask.

If you feel the physical therapist is not spending enough time with you, appears distracted, or is bouncing back and forth between you and other patients, you may want to find someone who offers more personalized care and attention. The experts say that if you ever feel uncomfortable or if an exercise or treatment is painful, you should speak up.

You should also receive instruction on exercises to do at home. The therapist may provide handouts, a link to a video demonstrating the correct movements, or another form of instruction to ensure you are doing the exercise correctly.


About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the ninth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S.News & World Report (2018-2019). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic on musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.


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