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The Best Physical Therapists in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed; Photos: Getty

For Learning to Run Again

Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Center, 525 E. 71st St.;

The poet Devin Kelly knew his ultramarathon habit (think 300 miles in under a week in one memorable instance) was in jeopardy when he lost a chunk of cartilage in his knee. After a cartilage transplant at the Hospital for Special Surgery, he sat down with the HSS physical therapist Timothy Filzen and came up with a plan. “We didn’t even do any work on the first day. He just wanted to know what I wanted out of PT,” Kelly says. “And I told him I wanted to run again.” The program Filzen came up with, which integrated blood-flow restriction, frequent strength tests, and balancing exercises, was simple but carefully tailored to Kelly’s needs, fitness level, and desire to run long distances again. “He pushed me really hard,” Kelly says, “with proper guidance.” After six months of sessions once or twice a week, “I ran for about 60 seconds at 70 percent of my body weight” on the center’s anti-gravity treadmill, he says. “It was such a profound experience. Tim immediately took out his phone and started videotaping it for me.”

For Demystifying the Pelvic Floor


Pelvic-floor dysfunction is often misunderstood even by medical professionals. “I had gone to a bunch of doctors, and no one knew what was wrong,” says Chani Markel, a speech pathologist who started experiencing persistent pelvic pain out of nowhere. “They just kept giving me all the same tests for UTIs and yeast infections.” A friend eventually recommended pelvic-floor physical therapy with Dr. Jennifer Purwin at FemFirstHealth. It took several meetings — which included internal work (meaning manual stimulation by the practitioner of trigger points in the pelvic floor), stretches, and yoga poses for relaxation — before Markel noticed a difference, but since then, she’s had a substantial reduction in pain. Purwin, she says, goes above and beyond to support her clients. When she found out Markel was going by herself to a Botox-injection session meant to relax her pelvic-floor muscles at another office, she offered to come along just to support her.

For Elmhurst Snacks

Manjoorsa Physical Therapy, 84-11 Queens Blvd., Queens

Grad student Bryan Doniger was finishing up a climb at a gym in his neighborhood when he made “a dumb misstep” and landed on the side of his foot. Soon after, he started going two or three times a week to Manjoorsa Physical Therapy in Elmhurst, which was recommended by his podiatrist. There, the physical therapists led him through a regimen of electrical stimulation for muscle activation (using a machine that “kind of zaps you for a while,” as Doniger puts it, with a slight electric current), balancing drills, and strengthening exercises that brought his foot back to life. Within a few months, he was once again running and biking with no pain. The treatment was excellent, he says, but it was the atmosphere at the practice and the “singularly kind employees” that ensured he never missed an appointment. “The staff members would take turns bringing in baked goods” from around Elmhurst, he says, “and would encourage me and other patients to stick around to drink coffee and have a snack.”

For Back Spasms

Spear Center;

With 25 locations, Spear is one of New York’s most omnipresent physical-therapy practices — and its most consistently well recommended. Casey Urban, a yoga instructor and pole dancer, went to Spear after injuring her back training for a pole competition. “I was going to compete at a semipro level for the first time,” she says. “And a month before, I got the worst back spasm I’ve ever had. The doctor diagnosed me with thinning in the cervical spine, which you can’t do much about other than physical therapy.” The doctor recommended Spear, and she began going twice a month. “I went on to win the competition,” she says, “even beating out two men.” Photographer Sam Popp also went to Spear for back issues — an extremely herniated disc. The sessions — which included targeted massage and careful strengthening of the muscles — were personalized and strangely enjoyable. “Mary Francis Roebuck, at the Midtown West 57th location, helped me learn how to move my body again when it felt like there was this ticking time bomb in my back.”

For a Collaborative Approach

Strength in Motion, 137 Fifth Ave.;

Joe Lavacca has been operating Strength in Motion, a one-person physical-therapy office, out of a gym space in the Flatiron District for the past four years. His collaborative approach made him popular among athletes like Neil, a retired dancer who began seeing LaVacca after a traumatic shoulder injury. “If I say, ‘I’ve been really noticing point A in my lats or point X in my shoulder,’ ” he says, “next thing I know, there are adjustments to the living document” — shared, personalized workout instructions and homemade demonstration videos. Neil says they were able to find a couple of subtle movements that completely unlocked his shoulder. “He’s so knowledgeable about folks who do fitness,” says Joey Yagoda, a gymgoer who also mentioned the personalized instructions. “People who lift, we’re afraid of being told we can’t do something. With Joe, there’s no ‘You can’t do something.’ You problem-solve to a way to get where you want to be.”

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The Best Physical Therapists in New York