How to Choose the Right Physical Therapist for You

When selecting a veterinarian for your horse, you research online, look at reviews, their experience, where they went to school and listen to what other equestrians have to say about them. But when it comes to selecting a physical therapist for you or your horse, do you know what qualifications to look for?

If done properly, physical therapy for equines and equestrians can greatly reduce chances of injury and optimize the overall performance of you and your horse. However, only using personal trainers, online platforms, or other health practitioners not trained properly may actually create injuries by pushing your tendons too far in a stretch or teaching you bad postural habits. Avoid making a bad decision– follow these tips to find the best physical therapy practice.

High-Level of Schooling

It used to be that certified physical therapists only required a Master’s degree. Now the level of schooling has increased to a postgraduate doctorate degree. In order to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy, candidates must obtain a bachelor’s degree before moving on to a CAPTE-accredited institution Doctor of Physical Therapy program. This medical professional program typically takes three years, and may be followed by a Residency or Fellowship for additional training.

Have you ever gone to a doctor specifically because they were board certified in a specialty field? On top of obtaining a doctorate, highly trained physical therapists may also become board certified in a specialization. For example, I underwent additional training and became a Physical Therapy Board Certified Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Specialist. This means I have a deep understanding of how our heart and lungs impact our overall health and fitness.

In December of 2017, I graduated from the University of Tennessee Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner program, the only veterinary school of medicine accredited program currently in the United States. This program focused on many aspects of rehabilitating the musculoskeletal, integumentary, and nervous systems of the equine. The program is open to all Veterinarians, Veterinary Techs, Doctors of Physical Therapy, and Physical Therapy Assistants. In order to attend, you must have one of these degrees.

A high level of schooling, professional state licensing, and mandated yearly competency through continuing education classes ensures that your Doctor of Physical Therapy is up to date on the latest breakthroughs in the field, and has every qualification necessary to provide you with the highest level of care. As athletes, you and your horse deserve a well-educated team.

Years of Experience

As with everything, there’s a lot to be said for hands-on experience as a physical therapist. If your Doctor of Physical Therapy hasn’t spent years working with equestrian clients, they may not understand the specific needs of the rider. For example, an experienced physical therapist who works with swimmers will be well-versed in the biomechanics of normal swimming and common overuse injuries that occur with recreational and competitive swimmers. However, a physical therapist that has little to no experience with equestrian biomechanics may misunderstand the underlying cause of the pain, injury, or physical demands that recreational and competitive riders encounter.

I have over a decade of experience working as a Doctor of Physical Therapy in a trauma center. Since 2015, I have focused my clinical skill and education on normal biomechanics in equestrians. I have been riding dressage with my horse for the past 5 years. However, I spent several decades riding in the hunter ring competitively. As a young hunter/jumper rider in Virginia I had several bad accidents that resulted in a spinal fusion. This experience, while unfortunate, is what encouraged me to pursue physical therapy for equestrians and helps me to understand exactly where my clients are coming from.

What You Don’t Want

The approach that “all exercises fit all” from personal trainers can be pretty bad for your health. Inappropriate stretching techniques can cause injuries, while bad exercises can lengthen recovery time instead of shortening it. While these personal trainers are valued, you should work in tandem with a Doctor of Physical Therapy. You deserve the advantage of the doctor’s education, expertise, and experience for movement assessment and exercise prescription that is right for you. If you’ve only ever worked with a personal trainer without making any progress in your fitness, it may be time for a Physical Therapy Evaluation that focuses on your specific movement and musculoskeletal imbalances.

It’s important to avoid equine and equestrian practitioners who offer physical therapy that have not been properly trained. You and your horse deserve the best care for your fitness and health. Don’t settle for less. If you’re looking for physical therapy for equestrians, check out my full rider assessment here. If your horse needs some work, take a look at my equine physical therapy services.

Contact us today to find out more about our equestrian and equine services.
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