It is important to realize that not all physical therapists are properly trained to return someone back from ACL injury. To ensure the best chance of meeting all goals read this list of things to consider before selecting your therapist.

Choosing the Right Physical Therapist for your ACL Rehab

The physical therapy profession is a very broad field. Many people think of physical therapists
working with athletes or helping people treat low back pain but did you know some therapists
only work with kids? Some work in nursing homes and others go to people’s houses. Physical
therapists tend to specialize in treating certain types of patients over time and some
even do more advanced training after physical therapy graduate school to formally specialize in
an area. It is important to realize this when choosing the right physical therapist for your ACL rehab.

Here is a list of things to consider when selecting your therapist:

  • Experience matters. Ask your therapist how many ACL patients he/she treats in a given year. You want someone with experience helping people along this path. Experience goes a long way in recognizing when things are going well or in the wrong direction.
  • Look for certain initials after a therapist’s name (ie Jill Smith, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS). These specific initials indicate an elevated level of education, dedication and interest in areas that will help you. There are a ton of other certifications out there but here is a list of the initials you should put the most stock in:
    • OCS – Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (board certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists)
    • SCS – Sports Medicine Certified Specialist (board certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists)
    • FAAOMPT – Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapists
    • CSCS – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
  • Along the same lines as above, some physical therapists get additional formal education and training in orthopedic or sports medicine through a residency or fellowship after PT school. If you see this in their bio it’s a very good sign you are going to get a very capable therapist. Residency or fellowship training can make up for years of experience.
  • Ask the potential physical therapist how they determine when you are ready to return to sports, work, and life. A therapist who treats ACL surgery patients should know what tests and measures they want someone to pass and why. They should also be able to modify this list depending on the needs and expectations of the individual. Again, this goes back to the idea that experience matters.
  • Does the physical therapist treat you or do they hand you off to someone else working under their license? You and your insurance company are paying for the skilled care of a physical therapist. Many clinics are called “mills” because you get put into a system that runs you through a process that is based more on maximizing how much they can bill your insurance instead of maximizing how well they care for the patient. These high volumes can make you feel like a number. A good question to ask during your research is “Are my visits done 1 on 1 with my physical therapist?”. It’s not impossible to get good care from clinics that use a team approach to your treatment but if that is the case I’d do some extra research.
  • Look around the clinic. Does the clinic and the patients in it look like a place you belong? Do you see other people of your age and ability level? Is there equipment or access to equipment that will continue to challenge you?
  • Does the clinic or therapist accept your insurance if you are going to use it? Most people who have surgery have met their deductible. This typically means that all post surgery physical therapy appointments will be maximally covered. A typical private insurance will cover 80% of your physical therapy bill AFTER your deductible is met. You should call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask the company representative about your physical therapy benefits and what you will be responsible for. Remember, this is your knee and your life. Choosing a physical therapist only because they are in your network may not be the best choice, but you should be fully aware and educated on what the likely cost of your rehab is going to be in any situation.
  • Clinic location can be important. If you are going to go back to work or school soon after surgery and want to work with your therapist frequently for rehab sessions, consider how much time getting to and from the clinic it will take. This speaks to knowing yourself. I have some clients who only need to see me a couple times a month because they are excellent about doing their homework and understand their body well. Others need a little more supervision, encouragement or are having a difficult time in their rehab and I need to see them more often.

I hope this list helps you find a great physical therapist who can help you meet all of your goals. Leave a comment below if you need any further explanation.

If you want more content to help guide you back from ACL Injury check out our ACL Pre-hab
Guide. The ACL Pre-hab Guide will give you all the information you’ll need to prepare your knee
for surgery and life for immediately after. Learn all about it HERE

Thanks for reading,
Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS
Physical Therapist
Board Certified Specialist in Orthopedic and Sports Medicine

Kyle Sela, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, CSCS

Kyle is a physical therapist who is a board certified specialist in sports and orthopedics. He completed a sports medicine fellowship at Duke University in the Management of Division I Athletes and served as a physical therapist on active duty in the US Army where he cared for a Brigade Combat Team during a deployment to Iraq. His passion is in movement efficiency and maximizing every patient's potential to live life to the highest quality. The SquatGuide™ reflects years of experience teaching people to squat with great form and efficiency so that they may benefit from this great exercise.

Leave a Comment