Have you reached a point in your healthy living journey where you're stuck and don't know what to do next? Are you just getting started and could just an extra boost of motivation? Do you need diet and exercise advice tailored to your specific needs? There's a health expert for that.|
Determining which kind of health professional is right for guiding you down the path to healthy living can be a tricky process, though. With all the options out there—health coaches, personal trainers, registered dietitians, physical therapists—it can be confusing to decide which skills are best suited for your personal needs. Do you pick one, a mix or someone completely different? Learning what to expect from some of the most common health and fitness professionals, straight from the experts themselves, could be the key to getting started with the right hype man (or woman) in your corner. When you know how each professional can help and how to make the most of your time with them, you increase your chance of success.
Matt Likins, MPT, OCS, is a physical therapist who explains that physical therapists are trained not only in reducing disability but in maximizing human function. "If your objective is to not just lose weight but to improve your overall health and ability to be more active and vibrant, a physical therapist can help you through that journey," says Likins. They can help to reduce pain and improve function by identifying and helping to correct issues with strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. A therapist will set up a thorough and comprehensive program of exercise and activity to help maximize your ability to do the things you want to do.
1. What can someone expect from a first session with a physical therapist and from follow-up sessions in the future?
According to Likins, the first meeting with a physical therapist will consist of a discussion of your medical and physical history—including not just your primary complaint but also a review of your overall health and a discussion regarding your ultimate goals and objectives. The therapist will then perform an examination, including a review of your various systems (cardiovascular, neurological, etc.), and examination of things like range of motion, flexibility, strength, balance and overall mobility to identify specific issues you may have. Your therapist will discuss their findings and recommendations for treatment. It is very important that you not only understand what they propose, but that you understand your responsibility in the recovery process.
Follow-up sessions will involve working with your physical therapist (or a physical therapist assistant) to achieve the objectives determined in the initial visit. This may consist of any number of interventions, including therapeutic exercise, neuromuscular re-education, manual or hands-on therapy, or various physical agents (heat/cold, ultrasound, laser, electrical stimulation). A large part of any physical therapy program is instruction in what you should be doing on your own, whether that be specific exercises, activities or self-care.
2. What is the typical cost per session?
Likins says that costs vary tremendously and you should investigate prior to starting care. If it is done through your health insurance, almost all insurers set the rates paid for care, but your out of pocket costs may vary. Find out if the therapist or facility participates with your insurance. If they are out of network, inquire about a discounted rate. If they do not accept your insurance or you don't have insurance, asking how much they charge is you best option—it might still be in your price range. Most facilities will verify your insurance coverage for you as a courtesy, but always double check yourself. If there is an error, you are usually responsible for making it right.
3. How can you find a good physical therapist?
The minimum standard for a physical therapist is a state license to practice, which should be posted on the wall of the office, but every state also has an online license verification system. According to Likins, the best way to find a physical therapist is through word-of-mouth from friends, family, your physician or even online reviews. There is an optional system of Board Certification in many areas of physical therapy. You can search for one in your area through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists.
4. Any red flags of which to be wary?
Likins recommends asking if you will work with your own physical therapist every visit. Some facilities rely heavily on "care extenders" such as physical therapy assistants to provide the actual treatments. Other facilities have you see different therapists on a routine basis, which makes it difficult to develop a rapport and for the "new" therapist to know how you are progressing or responding to treatment. Stop in to the office before making a final decision and ask to look around. Are they friendly? Do you see lots of patients and very little staff? If so, this could be an indication they do not spend quality time with their patients during every visit.
5. What are the top three questions someone should ask when meeting with a physical therapist?
"I have seen physical therapists twice when recovering from injuries. They were amazing," SparkPeople member ALIHIKES says. "I recovered my range of motion and was given exercises to prevent further injuries. They also helped me with hip exercises and improved the range of motion in my arthritic knees."
Dani Singer is a personal trainer and Director of Fit2Go, a personal training business in the Baltimore area. He says that although you can get fit without one, a personal trainer can help determine your level of success on your healthy living journey. "Google any fitness-related question and you'll get 100 contradictory answers. A knowledgeable personal trainer can clear through the noise and give you the right answer for you," says Singer. He also says that a great personal trainer will help you establish a healthy routine that realistically fits into your unique lifestyle and gives you an additional sense of accountability.
TEXASTITCHER is a SparkPeople member who started working with a personal trainer due to knee problems. "They worked to help strengthen my knees and other leg muscles. The work I did before surgery is one of the reasons I went through surgery so easily and recovered so quickly," she says. "I continued with the trainer after therapy, and now we're working on correcting my posture."
Registered Dietitian (RD)
Laura Dilz is a registered dietitian and owner of Lime and Greens Nutrition. She says that a registered dietitian (RD) can work with you to create an eating plan that is safe, will help meet your health and wellness goals, and is tailored specifically to your needs. Registered dietitians can translate the science of food and nutrition into practical advice for you to implement in your daily life. Dilz believes that working with an RD can transform your life by revealing the power food has to prevent disease and improve how you look and feel, both inside and out.
6. What are the top three questions someone should ask when meeting with a registered dietitian?
1CRAZYDOG met with a registered dietitian after her Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. "She helped me get refined sugar, salt, processed foods and simple carbs out of my diet. She also taught me about meal planning and portion sizes. I am now healthy, lost 100 pounds and am not on any diabetic medications."
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
Liza Baker's website Simply: Health Coaching offers a holistic approach to health and wellness, helping people learn how to successfully make healthy lifestyle changes. Baker says an integrative nutrition health coach will help you set realistic goals, whether it's weight loss, healthy relationships, a regular exercise routine, a fulfilling spiritual practice, adequate sleep, sound nutrition, soul-satisfying work, or a number of other healthy lifestyle changes. Once goals are established, the coach will help break the larger objective into manageable, incremental steps and support you on your way to reaching them. "My scope of practice does not allow me to diagnose, treat or prescribe; rather, I operate on the principle that deep down, every individual has an intuitive knowledge of what she or he needs to be healthy and whole. I see my role as helping you get back in touch with that inner voice and actually heed it," she says.
1. What can someone expect from a first session with an integrative nutrition health coach and from follow-up sessions in the future?
2. What is the typical cost per session?
4. Any red flags of which to be wary?
"I would say that the single largest red flag for me personally is that the potential coach "has an agenda." By that, I mean that she or he approaches the work with an intent to "prescribe" a certain diet, the workout you should be doing, the form of spiritual practice you must do, etc.," says Baker. She also warns against a coach who badmouths other forms of healthcare. "With all the health issues in our society today, there is a place for everyone at the table, and Western medicine can and should be one of the modalities in the conversation." She says a coach who does not willingly offer references and testimonials is probably someone to avoid, as is a coach who claims, "I work with everyone! My program can help anyone!" Most health coaches have a niche—weight loss, stress reduction, etc.— and while that's not to say they can't help others, it's just that they have more experience with one specialty.
Whether your doctor has recommended it or you've decided hiring a health professional is what you need to be successful, do your homework first. Learn about their credentials, style and details about how they can help before deciding whether or not to proceed. Don't be afraid to ask questions and keep looking if your needs aren't being met. These experts can be a wealth of valuable information, and finding the right one can dramatically improve both your health and move you even closer toward your ultimate goals.