How to be a Great Patient and Maximize Your Physical Therapy Visit

topgears1 How to be a Great Patient and Maximize Your Physical Therapy Visit

By Dr. Kate Cysewski, PT, DPT

You are not just a patient, you are a consumer of a service that is meant to improve your quality of life.  As a consumer, it is important to be educated about how to get the most out of your time in physical therapy, so that you can heal faster and minimize the chance that you will require additional therapy down the road.  Physical therapy is a two-way street, requiring constant communication between the therapist and patient in order to achieve a common goal: Efficient functional movement without pain or restriction.  Yes, your physical therapist should be asking you the right questions, educating you about your body and how it relates to your dysfunctions, and forming an appropriate treatment plan, but there are a few things that you can do to guide your physical therapist to be as efficient and specific as possible.  Use the following tips to help you prepare for your visit!

Provide a clear, concise, and chronological history:

Your physical therapist will be asking open-ended questions, allowing you to tell your story about what brought you to see him/her.  Before your evaluation, think about how far back your symptoms began, what you were doing at the time, and what you did to manage or ease the symptoms.  Did you go see your doctor?  Give a brief summary of what he/she said and provide any imaging (X-ray, MRI, CT scan) results.  Inform the therapist of other services you have used to address this issue, such as seeing a chiropractor, acupuncturists, massage therapist, or another physical therapist, and what that person did to treat your dysfunction.  You will also be asked to provide information regarding your past medical history and it is important that you are clear and provide approximate dates of previous surgeries, broken bones, falls, etc.  Physical therapists can use this information to help better understand you as a whole person.  Often times, your medical history has a direct link to what brought you to physical therapy in the first place, so the sooner and more open you are about this information, the quicker your therapist can get to the root cause of what is driving your dysfunction.

Ask questions:

The time you spend with your physical therapist is not only a time to have manual work done and do exercises, it should also be a time where you learn about what is going on with your body.  Your physical therapist should be educating you on how your measurements and other objective findings relate to why you have pain with sitting, standing, or whatever else provokes your symptoms.  Also, he/she should be explaining what techniques they are using and what the expected outcome is for that treatment session.  If he/she is not doing these things, then you need to ASK!  If you do not understand his/her explanation, then you need to ask for further clarification because understanding how your body moves versus how your body should move is key to your success.  Your brain has a an area that acts like a map of every body part, called the homunculus, which it uses to control sensation and movement.  Injury or pain to a certain area of the body can cause that portion of your homunculus to become smudged, which means your brain has difficulty controlling and/or sensing that body part.  This can cause weakness, mobility deficits, and other compensations, so having a clear understanding about how the improvements that your physical therapist makes in your mobility and mechanics will help to strengthen the connection between your brain and that body part.  A key component to your long-term success!

Be honest and realistic with your PT:

Similar to the previous point, if you are having trouble understanding your plan of care, treatment choices, or goals for physical therapy, be honest with your therapist and request to review these areas at any time during your time in therapy.  Your physical therapist will prescribe exercises for you to perform as part of a home program in order to progress the gains that you make between sessions.  Be honest and realistic with regards to how much time you have during the day to set aside for exercising, so your therapist can give you the appropriate number  and/or type of exercises.  Do you spend an hour at the gym everyday?  Then you can likely handle more exercises than someone who has a busy work/home schedule or is not as physically active.  Your physical therapist should also make the exercises specific to your needs and the equipment you have access to, so be sure to inform them of what you can and cannot do.

Even though the physical therapist is the health profession providing treatment, it is also your responsibility to take control of the care you are receiving.  This begins with providing clear and sufficient information regarding your history, taking an active role in learning about your body, and implementing the new mobility and strength gains made into your daily life.

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