In Michigan, where I practice, physical therapy is prescription medicine. You cannot come to see me without your physician’s authorization. (In several states this is not a requirement.) To be fully accurate, you can come to see me without your physician’s authority, but I can only work with you on an exercise program. I am unable to use the modalities you might think are used in PT, like Electrical Stimulation, Ultrasound or even a simple Hot Pack. Furthermore, your health insurance will not pay for treatment without a physician’s referral. For all practical purposes if you want to see me, I need your doctor’s say so.
The most important person to ask “how do I find a physical therapist?” is your doctor. More than likely your doctor has worked with most of the physical therapists in your community and they know who they like and who they do not like. Most of the time, however, even your family doctor will not have a strong opinion one way or the other and will leave it up to you decide who to see.
Next, you should ask a friend or acquaintance how do I find a physical therapist? Someone whose opinion you trust. Odds are, either they have had PT, or they know someone who has had PT, and they can make a recommendation for you.
If you are still drawing a blank, check out a local listing for physical therapists, and find a PT near where you travel on a regular basis. One of the most important factors in deciding where to have PT is convenience. If it is inconvenient to get to a PT, you will probably not go very often or for very long. For PT to be most effective, you (the patient) need to attend treatment for at least a little while. The PT may be near your home, or your work, or your school, or near family who you often visit. It does not matter where, as long as it is convenient for you.
Once you have picked out a PT or two at random, go pay a short visit and check out the clinic. You might be able to meet and talk with a PT, or you may just get to talk with a staff member, who at the very least should give you a walk through the clinic. During your visit take mental notes. Is the staff friendly? Are they trying to be helpful? Is the department clean? Is the waiting room full of frustrated patients who have been waiting overly long to see the PT? Is there easy access from the parking lot to the clinic? After you leave the PT facility decide if you felt comfortable with your visit. If you did not, keep looking. It might take you a few visits to find a PT whom you trust, but it will surely be worth it.