Whether you've already decided physical therapy is the best path for you or you're still weighing your options, one thing's for sure: it helps to know exactly what to expect. To help make you as comfortable as possible the first time you walk through those doors—and every time thereafter—we've put together this guide for what to expect from physical therapy.
Physical Therapy Basics
Physical therapy is an approach to healing that doesn't require drugs or surgery. Instead, a physical therapist works with you to categorize and understand your pain, identify short-term and long-term solutions, and give you tools to find relief even when you're outside the office.
Here are a few conditions treated by a physical therapist:
- back and neck pain
- ACL injuries
- and more
Depending on your condition, your overall health, your comfort level, and your physical therapist's unique approach, there are a variety of methods that may be utilized to help you find relief. These include:
- cold and heat therapy
- strength exercises
- balance exercises
- electrical stimulation
- and more
The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone's physical therapy journey is different. While you can brush up on the basics before your first appointment or session, you won't know exactly what's ahead until you actually connect with your therapist—that's when the real magic happens.
What to Expect From Your Physical Therapy
Although all physical therapy is different, there are a few things you can expect during your first few sessions. Here's what to know:
Getting to know you
The first time you meet with your physical therapist, you'll have paperwork to fill out and questions to answer. This is all part of the "getting to know you" phase, where your new therapist learns about your pain, health history, and more. You can expect an examination similar to what your primary care physician might do, but with a special focus on your area of pain.
Once your physical therapist has learned your background, they'll get you up and moving. Now that they know you, they want to get to know your pain—so they'll have you perform a variety of exercises and stretches that will show them your range of movement, posture, muscle function, strength, and more. To make this session as effective as possible, remember to wear comfortable clothes!
With all of this information in hand, plus any details from your primary care physician, your physical therapist will create a diagnosis. This step is helpful for two reasons. First, it helps you and your physical therapist know what to work on and how to approach your treatment plan; and second, it gives you the background information necessary to do outside research and learn everything you want to know.
Once a diagnosis is finalized, you and your physical therapist will discuss what that means—for example, what to expect in the short term as well as the long term; whether you should work in conjunction with other medical experts; and whether you'll be focusing on eliminating pain, increasing mobility, or a little bit of everything.
The treatment plan
Now that you and your physical therapist are on the same page, it's time to map out exactly what your journey will look like. This is where a treatment plan is created and it is, perhaps, the most personalized part of any physical therapy journey.
Different conditions will have different treatment plans. Here are a few examples:
- Massage: Your physical therapist might get hands-on to help tackle your pain. Massaging the affected area or the muscles and joints nearby can help reduce pain, stimulate blood flow, and work out any stiffness.
- Therapy tools: Physical therapists have a variety of tools you might not have access to otherwise. For example, your treatment plan might benefit from laser therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or something else you don't want to try at home.
- Exercises: Almost all physical therapy treatments involve exercise. Some of these will be limited to your therapist's office, where you'll have specialized machines to use during your workout (not to mention guidance and moral support from your therapist).
- At-home solutions: Your physical therapist will give you tools and solutions to address pain on your own, too. These might include wraps, over-the-counter medications, or exercises that will build strength and increase mobility over time.
If you have any questions throughout the first meeting--and, in fact, at any time--ask them as soon as possible. However, your physical therapist will expect that you need some time to take everything in, so don't feel bad if you wait until the very last minute to start asking questions.
Here are some things you might want to ask:
- Will my pain get worse before it gets better?
- How long will I need physical therapy?
- When will I see results?
- Do I need to buy any of my own equipment?
Learning more about physical therapy is your first step on a journey that can ease pain, increase strength, and get you back to doing the things you love. Before starting anything new, it helps to know what to expect—but remember that, while some things are common among all physical therapy sessions, there are other things that will be tailor-made to fit you and your needs. What's most important is to work with your therapist and take an active role in your recovery—that way, you have control every step of the way.
Do you have more questions about physical therapy? Want to start working with a physical therapist? Contact us to start your healing journey today.