What to expect, and what to NOT accept, at Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy, or physiotherapy if you’re not from the United States, is a branch of healthcare that specializes in helping people have less pain, increase function and safety, and prevent injuries. If you’ve never experienced Physical Therapy in any way, it can be hard to guess what is in store for you. That’s not surprising, because the profession of Physical Therapy covers every age, and a number of settings. Physical Therapists work in outpatient clinics, hospitals, in people’s homes, and on sidelines at sporting events. Some of us use our hands, others use exercises, some even use needles! We use a multitude of techniques, for a wide variety of issues.  

So what do you need to know about going to Physical Therapy?

looking lost
looking lost

What to Expect:

  • For your first visit, you’ll have an evaluation with your physical therapist.
    • This will include a medical history, a history of the problem you’re there to address, as well as a physical exam.
    • You should feel like your physical therapist has listened to your concerns and beliefs.
    • Expect lots of thinking and learning!
      • You’ll learn about your condition, and what the plan of care will be.
  • Your PT should be able to answer these five important questions:
    • What is wrong?
    • How long will it take to get better?
    • What can you do for yourself to help get better?
    • What can the PT do to help you get better?
    • How much will it cost?
    • Expect teamwork!
      • Your PT isn’t your boss. Your PT is your teammate in helping you reach your goals.
      • Expect to get better!
        • If you’re feeling worse or no change, make sure to communicate that to your PT.
        • Expect homework
          • Going to PT should be fun and productive! But you’ll need to be working more than 2-3x/week if you’re going to have lasting change!
          • Expect to feel empowered and independent!
            • Going to PT is about you getting back to your life, not becoming really good at coming to PT, or the program your PT came up with.
empowered image
empowered image

What to NOT Accept:

  • Do not accept coming to PT and then being left alone!
    • You should be under the care of a Physical Therapist or a Physical Therapy Assistant when you’re taking the trouble to attend (and pay!) for your visit.
      • If you can do all of your exercises on your own, you are either done with PT, can do them at home on your own, or need to be given the next exercise!
      • Do not accept confusion or a lack of understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing…
        • Whatever you do in therapy, or as part of your home program, should make sense to you!
          • If for any reason you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s the job of your PT to help you understand!
          • Do not accept being bored.
            • If you’re doing the same thing over and over, and you don’t feel like you’re progressing – Say something!
            • Do not accept ‘Just lying there’
              • Manual therapy is great! But to regain function, you’re going to have to move!
              • Manual therapy can support movement and give you relief and confidence to move, but it is the movement that is the magic.
              • Do not accept getting WORSE!!
                • Lots of people come to PT for help with pain. It’s illogical to think you need to hurt more to hurt less, so if your PT tells you hurting more is ok, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree! There are other PTs out there who can make you hurt less!
goal met image
goal met image

Physical Therapists are not all the same, and sometimes you don’t meet your dream therapist on your first visit. It’s ok to ‘break up’ and look for that therapist that will make your dreams come true. The most important thing to remember about going to physical therapy is that your Physical Therapist is there for YOU.