Physical Therapy…are you looking for more than just a hot pack and exercise?

My biggest pet peeve is when I see a patient that is skeptical about physical therapy because in the past they saw a PT that just had them ride the bike, do 20 reps of a couple exercises and put a hot pack on them.  I know that PTs that perform these kind of treatments are still out there, but it is my goal to educate people about what is possible with Physical Therapy and why they should shop around.  In our current healthcare system, patients no longer have to go where there doctor refers them, they can be a consumer and research their options and choose the best fit for them.  Often, they don’t even need a referral for physical therapy.  In Colorado, we have direct access which means that many insurance companies do not require a referral for physical therapy.  A patient can decide that they have an ache/pain/sprain and go to a physical therapist.  As a PT, we are trained to complete a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis and we will refer you to a medical doctor if we feel that you need anything outside of our practice.  We often refer patients for imaging (x-ray, MRI, etc) or for further medical evaluation if we notice any “red flags” or notice something that needs to be looked at by a different specialist.

So…what should you look for when searching for a great PT?  I personally feel that the technique that we call “manual therapy” should be included in every treatment no matter if the patient is recovering from a surgery, has a “pinched nerve” or sprained their ankle.  Manual therapy consists of hands-on techniques that we use to improve mobility of joints and soft tissues (muscles, tendons, skin, fascia, etc), increase blood flow and release restrictions.  In my practice I also utilize Dry Needling and Cupping to promote even more blood flow, release trigger points, break down scar tissue, stimulate the nervous system and improve overall healing.  Use of different kinds of taping can also be included in this category.

Therapeutic exercise and neuromuscular re-education are also very large components of physical therapy, but it’s not just average exercise.  Every person’s strength, weakness, flexibility, balance and movement is different and exercises need to be customized to each individual.  There is no perfect “cookbook recipe” for exercise prescription and as a consumer you should really look for a PT that evaluates your specific needs and is very focused on ensuring that you are completing the exercises with proper form, is educating you on the number of repetitions and how to progress properly, and that really listens to your feedback and makes adjustments based on how you feel.

In the PT world we use the word “modality” to describe many different tools that we have to help with pain, blood flow and healing.  Examples of these are: ultrasound, electrical stimulation (TENS unit, interferential current, etc), traction, infrared light, laser, hot/cold packs and many more.  These are not always necessary and their use completely depends on the therapist’s preferences (some clinics don’t even utilize modalities).  I personally feel that hands-on techniques are far more effective than modalities and now-a-days people can buy TENS units, heating pads, cold packs and infrared light over-the-counter and can use them at home much more consistently than just the 1-2 times per week that they are in the clinic.  Modalities can be nice for pain relief, but don’t be disappointed if your therapist would rather have more one-on-one time with you rather than just putting a hot pack on at the end of your treatment.

In conclusion, things to ask about when looking for physical therapy treatment are:

  1. Does the therapist utilize manual therapy techniques?
  2. How much one-on-one time does the therapist spend with the patient and do they spend time with exercise education?
  3. Does the therapist listen to patient feedback?

In my practice, Solstice Physical Therapy, I spend 1 full hour with my patients in a one-on-one setting and I utilize manual therapy, myofascial release, dry needling, cupping, taping, and give my patients very customized therapeutic exercise programs.  I focus on education so that my patients can avoid pain, learn how to improve their lifestyle and prevent future pain and other issues.

If you live in the Denver Metro (I am based in the north metro area) and are interested in private physical therapy in your home or office, please contact me at (720) 369-7738, email: or visit my website

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