As a rule, private practice physical therapists (that’s you) are active, energetic, and engaging people. So, too, should be your clinic’s brand.
This means consistently breaking out from the walls of your clinic to engage people in your community on a relatable level, then educate them about physical therapy and the transformative power of movement.
You’re thinking, “I would love to be doing this, but who has the time?”
Mary Beth Ackerman, a physical therapist with PhysioCare Physical Therapy in the greater Seattle area, found a winning formula.
By combining what she does (physical therapy) with what she loves (running), she was able to pull together a committed group of active, like-minded people in her community who were eager achieve their potential as runners, competitors, and healthy human beings.
Such a formula was the genesis for the Sole Mates Running Group. And, it’s a formula, according to Ackerman, that can be duplicated and executed in most any market.
Founded by Ackerman in 2013, Sole Mates was created to be a free community resource for runners to gather and meet one another while encouraging non-runners to take on a healthful, competitive activity. The group meets once per week in two Seattle-area communities.
“I’m going to go running anyway. I might as well be doing it for the people in my community,” she said. “The group gives runners a chance to connect with a physical therapist, some for the first time.
“The main goal is to simply get out into the community, become known, and educate about physical therapy.”
Such a community connection is invaluable, Ackerman added, as it gives physical therapists the opportunity to educate runners about issues like injury prevention, core exercises, training plans, the use of proper equipment … all topics that solidify PTs as experts in movement, athletic enhancement and, when needed, rehabilitation.
“It’s to have increased awareness about what you do and become ingrained in the community,” Ackerman said. “That’s what we wanted to get across – that we’re your community physical therapist.”
According to Ackerman, the group has led to a handful of direct clients over the years. But more importantly, it’s managed to break down the clinical wall between her community and the PhysioCare PT team.

Want to duplicate this success?

Ackerman offers the following advice for starting your own community group or club:
Do what you love. If you’re a runner, start a running club. A cyclist? Pull together other pedal-powered enthusiasts. If it’s what you love, others will find energy in your passion. Plus, you’ll more likely find the time and achieve the consistency you need to be successful.
Make it fun. This isn’t a boot camp. You want to cast a wide net by welcoming people of all levels and encouraging a positive, more casual environment. The goal is to make a lot of connections, after all. Also, offer plenty of variety in your sessions.
Work as a team. Don’t go at it alone. Bring in others from your clinic, and perhaps even partner with other professionals in your community. Remember: you want this to be fun, and having a great team helps!
Be frequent. “Initially, we thought we’d do it once a month,” Ackerman said of Sole Mates. “Realistically, if you want people to show up consistently, you need to do it every week … at least every other week. Otherwise, it’s hard to gain momentum.”
Have goals. Keep an eye on local runs, races and competitions that may pique the interest of your group. Regardless of experience or competitive level, having everyone training toward a tangible goal is key to keeping people motivated.
Use social media. “Use social media to your advantage. Create a Facebook group or a Meetup group,” Ackerman said. “We started out just emailing people, and it was a nightmare. But with social media, people are always connected.”
BuildPT has worked with a number of private practice physical therapists in creating and promoting community groups like Sole Mates Running Club. For ideas and to learn more, shoot us an email at [email protected].

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