Athletic injury, nagging pain, everyday wear and tear or post-op recovery can all lead you to physical therapy. Here’s what you can expect.
What is physical therapy?
Physical therapy or rehab is one of the fastest growing segments in healthcare. Chances are you know someone who’s been to physical therapy. And if you’re reading this, your doctor has probably suggested it or you’re wondering if you need it.
So what exactly is physical therapy? According to the NIH, it’s “care that can help you get back, keep, or improve abilities that you need for daily life.” Injury, disease or medical treatment may have caused the loss of ability or loss of motion in the first place. Common reasons people go to PT include broken bones, stroke, major surgery and chronic pain.
A doctor or a physiatrist (a physician that specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation) can work with you to determine if physical therapy is right for you.
Your first appointment
As with most doctor’s visits, your first appointment with a physical therapist will include an exam. There will be an in-depth physical assessment with measurements so dress comfortably in clothes that will let the PT access the affected area. Common measurements include: palpation, range of motion, strength, balance and functional mobility. You’ll also talk through problems you’re experiencing. Together, you and the physical therapist will come up with some goals and a treatment plan. Examples of goals include: increase range of motion in a limb, increase independence, play sports again and decrease pain.
Exercise, exercise – you’ll need to do it in therapy and at home
The cornerstone of physical therapy is functional training and therapeutic exercise. While some manipulation, or manual therapy, will be done by the PT, other therapeutic exercises will be done completely by you. And, after you leave the clinic, your physical therapist will expect you to do exercises at home. You’ll need to follow instructions and do all your at-home exercises to help improve your recovery outcomes.
How long until you feel better?
Because the benefits of physical therapy are cumulative and treatment is tailored to your individual needs, it’s hard to know exactly how long you’ll be in rehab. Often 6-12 visits is enough, but your PT will let you know what to expect. The benefits of physical therapy can last long after the final session if you incorporate the exercises you learn into an ongoing health routine.
NIH, “Rehabilitation” Accessed on May 28, 2020
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, “Learn physical therapy basics” Accessed on May 28, 2020
WebMD, “Is it time for physical therapy?” Accessed on May 28, 2020
Mayo Clinic, “Physical medicine and rehabilitation” Accessed on May 28, 2020
American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, “FAQs about physiatry” Accessed on May 28, 2020