Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2016
Written by 

What is a physical therapist?

A physical therapist is a licensed health care professional who diagnoses and treats individuals with physical conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities. A physical therapist utilizes treatment techniques that have a goal of improving the function of the body, decreasing pain and aiding in the healing process. They work in a variety of settings and most hold a masters or doctorate degree from an accredited school. Common settings where you may find a physical therapist include: hospitals (inpatient and outpatient), nursing homes, private practice clinics, professional sports teams, school systems and in work places.

Regardless of the setting, physical therapists are trained to perform and examine in order to determine the patient’s mobility, strength, stability, joint mechanics, muscle tone balance and sensation. The physical therapist then compares this information to what is ideal for the patients’ condition and identifies the main areas that need to be addressed.

These areas can be addressed through a variety of methods including exercise, hands-on treatment, education of posture and proper body mechanics, bracing and taping techniques, and trigger point release such as dry needling.

How do I choose the right physical therapist for me?

When choosing a physical therapist, oftentimes a patient follows what the primary care physician may refer. This can be a high cost to the patient. In the end, it is the patient that has the ultimate decision to choose wisely. In our ever-changing health care environment, we see our health care costs rising. As a smart health care consumer, you must do the research that is necessary to make sure that your health care dollars are spent wisely.

Physical therapy services allow for direct access. This means that a patient may be evaluated, diagnosed and treated by a physical therapist without a referral from a physician or another health care professional. Direct access resulted from health care reform in state legislatures in the early 1990s, and was a solution to the problems of decreasing access to care and increasing health care costs.

To stay cost effective, consider the location of services, time the physical therapist spends with you and the results that you see from your treatment. The following are sample questions that may be helpful:

  1. Where is the physical therapist located? You may not need to travel “into the city” for good care. This saves money on travel expenses. You do not need to stay within one hospital system or organization.
  2. Does my insurance cover this provider? Check with your insurance plan provider to make sure that the provider is in network since you will pay more to an out-of-network provider. Also check with the provider if they have a cash payment for services. Many privately owned physical therapy groups, along with other health care providers, offer this service to their patients as a cost saving service.
  3. How long is my appointment going to be? If you are limited to the number of visits per calendar year, it is wise to choose a provider who spends more time with you, therefore giving you maximum results with the fewest visits.
  4. Does the physical therapist spend time with you one on one? Do they place you into group therapy? Do they pass you off to the physical therapist assistant for the remainder of your plan of care?
  5. Does the physical therapist spend time educating you about your condition and treatment plan? Is there good follow-up care? Is there active communication between your physical therapist and other medical and health care providers?
  6. If you do not get better, does the therapist refer you to another method of treatment that might be able to help?

Overall, it is you the patient who will need to ask the questions and do the research. Most physical therapy clinics have websites with links to testimonials, biographies of each physical therapist and a list of specializations that each physical therapist offers. Other great resources are websites such as and for more in depth education physical therapy and local physical therapy clinic locations. 

Suzanne Laurent

Suzanne Laurent is the division manager of WorkPlace Solutions of Orthopedic & Spine Therapy. She works with consumers and businesses alike to provide necessary information in keeping overall healthcare insurance and work compensation costs down. Orthopedic & Spine Therapy (OST) is a privately owned physical therapy organization consisting of 17 clinics in Wisconsin. To learn more about how OST physical therapy can help you in your health care needs visit or like them on Facebook. For more information on the WorkPlace Solutions division, contact Suzanne Laurent at

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