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Should I let a student PT treat me?

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Q: I'm going to see a physiotherapist for my first bout of low back pain. Should I let a student physiotherapist treat me? I don't want to end up like my brother who has chronic low back pain because the therapist was inexperienced in treating me.

A: Physiotherapy students have very good training in assessing and treating low back pain. They may not have years of experience but they are up to date on the latest methods that are known to be effective.

During their training as students, they have been given all the tools needed to help you. Their first step will be to find out what's the underlying mechanical problem causing your back pain. Their studies have helped them see which treatment approach works best with each type of problem.

While learning how to treat patients, PT students have been observed closely. They have to demonstrate proficiency in each skill before moving to the clinic and treating patients.

They know the importance of measuring the results of their treatment. You won't be treated without some testing to see if the treatment is having a positive benefit. A more experienced therapist is always there to supervise the student's work so you really get the best of both worlds.

Timothy W. Flynn, PhD, OCS, FAAOMPT, et al. Spinal Manipulation in Physiotherapist Professional Degree Education: A Model for Teaching and Integration into Clinical Practice. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physiotherapy. August 2006. Vol. 36. No. 8. Pp. 577-587.

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