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Get care that meets your specific needs.

Download this resource in Spanish (pdf).

Physical therapists treat people of all ages and abilities.

Doctors often refer their patients to physical therapy, but you also can self-refer (called direct access) and see a physical therapist for an evaluation and, in most cases, treatment, without a doctor's referral.* 

Here are eight tips from the American Physical Therapy Association for how to find the best physical therapist for you.

1. Look for a physical therapist near you (we'll help).

Use our Find a PT tool. You can search for a physical therapist near you, look for a PT who meets your specific needs, or filter results by specialists (see No. 6 below) and providers offering telehealth or home visits. All physical therapists in the Find a PT database are active members of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Find a PT Near You

2. Make sure you receive physical therapy from a licensed physical therapist.

Only licensed physical therapists are included in Find a PT. Otherwise, be sure your physical therapist uses the credentials "PT" (which stands for physical therapist) or "DPT" (which stands for doctor of physical therapy).

3. Contact the physical therapist's clinic to ask about the services they offer.

All physical therapists are prepared through education and clinical experience to manage a variety of conditions and injuries.

Some physical therapists focus on particular conditions (such as low back pain, knee injury, pelvic pain, and shoulder pain), or a specific age group or patient population (such as children, older adults, or people with neurologic conditions). Others may practice in a specific setting (such as outpatient clinics or home health).

Ask if the physical therapist regularly treats your condition or people like you. If they don't, they may be able to refer you to another physical therapist who does.

4. Ask if the physical therapist's clinic accepts your health care plan.

Getting care from an in-network physical therapist should lessen your out-of-pocket costs. Some physical therapists also accept "cash" payments outside of insurance. Read our article "Understand Access to and Payment for Physical Therapist Services."

5. Ask whether the clinic will submit insurance claims on your behalf.

Some insurance policies require a copayment. A copayment is a fixed amount you pay for covered care after you have met your deductible. Your deductible is the portion you must pay before insurance benefits begin. Your copayment may depend on whether the physical therapist is part of your insurance provider's network.

The clinic should be able to help you estimate the amount for which you are responsible. It is best to contact your insurance company before treatment to verify your out-of-pocket costs.

See Understanding Health Insurance Terms for more information.

6. Consider if you want to see a specialist.

All physical therapists are qualified through higher education, clinical experience, and licensure to treat a broad spectrum of symptoms and conditions in people of all ages and abilities. Some physical therapists achieve board certification by demonstrating advanced knowledge, skills, and experience in specific areas. The American Physical Therapy Association's Specialist Certification Program, governed by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, offers board certification in these 10 specialty areas:

  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy. This specialty focuses on the prevention and management of heart, lung, vascular, and other chronic health conditions. 
  • Clinical electrophysiology. This physical therapy specialty encompasses the use of electricity to monitor, measure, or produce physical responses for the evaluation, treatment, and prevention of nerve and muscle dysfunction.
  • Geriatrics. The geriatric physical therapy specialty places emphasis on improving the function and quality of life for aging adults and the treatment of conditions common in advanced age.
  • Neurology. The neurologic physical therapy specialty focuses on the evaluation and treatment of people with movement problems due to disease or injury of the nervous system or brain.
  • Oncology. The oncologic physical therapy specialty focuses on managing cancer-related problems involving the muscles, bones, joints, nervous system and skin as well as cardiovascular pulmonary problems of people living with and beyond cancer and other chronic illnesses such as HIV.
  • Orthopaedics. The orthopaedic physical therapy specialty places emphasis on diagnosing and treating conditions and injuries that affect any part of the musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones, joints, and nerves) as well as prevention of disability, pain management, and injury prevention.
  • Pediatrics. The pediatric physical therapy specialty involves the treatment and management of traumatic, developmental, and systemic disorders among children from birth to 21 years.
  • Sports. The sports physical therapy specialty places emphasis on preventing injury and addressing the physical, psychological, and performance-related needs of athletes and physically active people of all ages and competitive levels.
  • Women's Health. The women's health physical therapy specialty focuses on the evaluation, management, and prevention of conditions that affect women throughout the lifespan, and pelvic health in women, children, and men.
  • Wound Management. The wound management physical therapy specialty involves understanding, assessing, and maintaining the health of the body's outer layer (skin, hair, nails, and glands) and managing various types of wounds and conditions involving the body’s outer layer.

You can search for a specialist using Find a PT.

Some specialists also go on to fellowship programs in a subspecialties (distinct subsets of knowledge and skills). Learn more about the physical therapy specialties and subspecialties and the symptoms and conditions commonly treated by PTs who specialize.

7. Know your rights.

You have the right to choose any physical therapist in your state who participates in your health care plan. Some doctors have a financial interest in physical therapy practices. If they refer you to a physical therapist in their office, you are not required to go there. 

8. Prepare for your first visit.

Here's how you can get the most out of your physical therapist treatment.

*Insurance, corporate policies, or state laws may still require a physician’s referral or limit treatment scope and duration without a referral. Insurance policies also may limit you to in-network providers.