Health systems: How to attract healthy people to physical therapy

You already know that physical therapy isn’t just for the injured, but the average Jane or Joe may not be privy to that wisdom. Medical fitness centers face the challenge of getting more patients beyond those who are recovering from surgery, an accident, or a torn muscle or ligament — all obvious reasons to see a physical therapist.

Yet increasing patients in your physical therapy clinic can be easy if you know how to attract healthier patients who may not know they need physical therapy. Discover how to identify these clients and encourage them to take advantage of physical therapy for pain-free living.

Who can benefit from physical therapy before an injury arises?

“I think of friends and family who ask me questions about the occasional ache or soreness they experience in everyday life,” says Brett Rivers, physical therapist and vice president of operations at EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine. “So many times, I see a larger issue clinically that could have been minimized if not avoided altogether by a proactive approach to health.”

The list of potential clients who can benefit from using physical therapy proactively instead of retroactively is endless: athletes, runners, cyclists, triathletes, musicians, dancers, first responders, builders, housekeepers, maintenance staff, nurses, and especially people who have desk jobs.

With any repetitive activity, whether clicking and dragging a computer mouse or holding a violin, pain can arise. Jim Godin, doctor of physical therapy and director of rehabilitation at EXOS, compares those first signs of wear and tear, like neck tension or low back pain, to the check engine light in a car. A physical therapist should assess the patient to address issues, including muscle imbalances, irritated tissues, or weaknesses, that may be contributing to that patient’s check engine light. When addressed early, this can keep small annoyances from escalating into full-blown engine failure that hinders the patient’s ability to work, play, or stay active.

People with desk jobs, no matter their activity level, are especially at risk for pain from repetitive activities.

“Simple strategies, such as an ergonomic assessment and mobility and stability exercises, can go a long way to proactively improve tissue quality and decrease inflammation, which overall decreases chronic pain,” says Graeme Lauriston, doctor of physical therapy and vice president of EXOS Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine.

With any repetitive activity, whether clicking and dragging a computer mouse or holding a violin, pain can arise.

How do you market physical therapy to healthy patients?

Offer movement screenings or educational sessions to various interest groups, Godin suggests. Then, explain your screening findings and provide one or two corrective exercises on a take-home sheet with your clinic’s logo and contact info. Not sure which organizations to target? These can include everything from spin gyms to local musical or dance organizations like the symphony or ballet. An educational session for a running group, for example, might cover good running mechanics and offer techniques for activating the proper glute muscles.

“Get into the community with local youth and adult leagues and form relationships with the athletes, parents, coaches, and staff,” Lauriston adds. “Provide organic education on what makes you different than another typical physical therapy place and how preventive screening and programming can be very successful to not just limiting injuries but improving performance.”

You can also reach out and build relationships with area physicians who might give referrals once they understand your holistic, movement-based approach to rehabilitation. This is an important tactic for those who want to get more physical therapy patients.

Building relationships with athletes can help them improve their performance and bring in referrals for your business.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 149 million workdays are lost yearly because of low back pain.

How can physical therapy help the workforce?

It’s also crucial to target individuals outside the realm of sports and activities. The workforce holds a huge sector of people in need of physical therapy, and employers benefit from helping employees become and remain pain-free. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 149 million workdays are lost yearly because of low back pain, resulting in a major drop in productivity and lost wages. Use this information to talk to employers in your community about visiting job sites or offices for outreach.“

So many times, it’s eye-opening to experience an employee’s job alongside them rather than through narrative from the employee,” Rivers says. “It gives a clinician a much better perspective of what an employee is going through at work that could ultimately lead to an injury.”

While direct outreach is important, don’t forget the power of social media for educating your community on what you do. Post blogs about the benefits of different therapy methods for various issues, promote screening offerings, host events, and engage your followers. (Check out these five marketing strategies for medical fitness centers.) As you continue to grow your presence, both physically and virtually in the community, you’ll see an increase in clients ready to take a proactive approach.

About the Author

Jennifer Chesak

Jennifer Chesak’s health, fitness, and adventure journalism has appeared in Healthline, Prevention, Runner’s World, SheKnows, and Field & Stream online, to name a few. She earned her master's degree in journalism from Northwestern. She’s also a distance runner and avid yogi.

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