How do I know if my physical therapy is working?

Physical Therapy, Exercise, Self Care

Therapist working with an older gentleman

That’s a great question. We are glad you asked.

There are three areas to consider when you are assessing the success of your physical therapy program:

  • Your movement
  • Your working relationship with your therapist
  • Your progress.

You know your body better than anyone else. Your physical therapist is a body movement expert. By combining your knowledge with your therapist’s expertise, you can get your body moving at its best.

Know your starting point, your current range of motion and your movement goals.

During your first appointment, your therapist will look at your medical file or your initial patient questionnaire. Then he or she will ask you to describe your condition, what you’re able to do, and what activities are harder for you to perform.

To be successful in physical therapy, you’ll need to describe your movement limitations in “painstaking” detail, moving and showing your physical therapist where you feel pinching, pulling, tightness, and pain.

Your therapist also needs to know what you want to be able to do after you have reached your best level of movement. That detail will help set the goal of your physical therapy.

Your therapist will assess your movement. At times, the therapist will use a goniometer to measure the range of motion of certain joints. Your therapist may physically examine your body, detecting tightness, and the range of your pain-free motion.

These assessments will become the starting point and the foundation of a treatment plan to help you move and feel better.

Once your baseline starting point is established, it’s time for the physical therapy team – you and your therapist – to get to work.

During your appointment, your therapist may use:

  • Ice
  • Heat
  • Physical manipulation to relieve muscle tightness, release trigger points, or increase range of motion
  • Massage to ease tension
  • Exercises that will help you move better

At the end of the appointment, your therapist may assign you exercises as “homework.” It’s helpful to ask your therapist how the exercises will promote healing. Often, if you understand the purpose of a specific movement, it’s easier to follow through with the program.

Do your homework. Your commitment to your treatment program impacts your success.

After your appointment, the real work begins.

In most cases, the success of your therapy will depend on your commitment to your homework exercises.

Try to do all the exercises your provider prescribes. You may wonder why some movements are included because they seem so easy to perform. But your physical therapist has included all the exercises for a reason.

Adding 10 to 20 minutes of exercise to your day sounds easy – but starting a new habit and working through exercises that stretch and strengthen an area of your body that’s already in pain can be challenging. But while you’re in physical therapy, it’s one of the most important things you can do to restore your movement.

Sometimes it’s helpful to set an alarm or add physical therapy exercises to an existing daily activity, such as brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, or watching the evening news.

As you begin to feel better, you may want to double the number of exercises to progress faster. Resist that temptation. Talk to your therapist about the frequency and number of repetitions you should be performing. Doing too much too soon can set you back.

As you complete the exercise routine on your own, take notes or write in a journal. Describe your level of pain and discomfort. Note where you experience tightness, pain, or difficulty.

Recording your daily experience also helps you assess the success of your treatment. It gives you the opportunity to look back at your experience and will help you see progress. 

Communicate with your therapist.

Open communication is critical to your physical therapy program.

Sharing details about your movement during your daily life with your therapist will help you achieve successful results.

Your therapist has developed a plan of care based on your condition. Knowing how your exercises went will help inform how the treatment unfolds.

At later appointments, show your physical therapist the exercises you are doing and get feedback on your form and posture to make sure you’re positioned correctly.

Note improvements.

Of course, each treatment program is tailor to each person's need, so your results will be unique. But generally, after each appointment, you should notice improvements in movement and a reduction in pain. 

If you do not feel you’re progressing, tell your therapist about your concerns.

Is there ever a time when you should consider changing your therapist?

Yes. There are several legitimate reasons to change physical therapists.

Since most insurance companies only allow a set number of physical therapy appointments, it’s essential to make sure each physical therapy session is improving your movement or reducing your pain.

If you’ve done your homework and things aren’t improving after a few appointments, it might be time for a new provider.

Here are some of the most common reasons people decide to change physical therapists.

There's a personality conflict.
To get the most out of your health care, you need to develop a good working relationship with your provider. You need to feel comfortable sharing details of your life. That’s hard to do if there’s no trust or you feel like you’re treated like an arm, leg, or elbow instead of a whole person.

 Patients are less likely to follow the treatment plan if there is not an atmosphere of mutual respect in the relationship. If that describes your situation, it may be time for a change.

You're not seeing improvement.
If you faithfully complete your exercise homework and your range of motion has not changed after a few appointments, it’s time for a discussion with your physical therapist. If you do not progress, it may be time for a second opinion.

You don’t see a progression in your treatment plan.
The goal of physical therapy is to improve your range of motion and get you back to normal movement as much as possible.

During your visit, your physical therapist should ask you to demonstrate the exercises that you’ve been doing at home. He or she may also ask you to perform different movements to check your progress.

If your therapist is only interested in talking during your appointment, it may be a sign that you are in the wrong place.

A qualified physical therapist will want to see you move so they can assess your progress and revise the treatment plan when necessary.

You don’t feel like your therapist is listening to you.
Most patients have at least one concern during physical therapy care. If you express concerns, but your physical therapist doesn’t offer you an explanation or worse, discounts your questions, working with another physical therapist may be your best option.

Since physical therapy can take months for some conditions, it’s important to be at ease when working with your therapist. After all, stress does not help people move freely.

If you experience pain caused by injury or illness and it's limiting your movement and interfering in your life, an orthopedic physical therapy program can help you get you back in motion.

Call Bone & Joint at 800-445-6442 and ask about physical therapy in Plover, Wausau, or Weston.


Check out other articles published in February 2021:

Does diabetes affect bone health?
What is a bulging disc?
You don't have to wait for an appointment. Visit Bone & Joint's Walk-In Care.
Stay safer with Bone & Joint's curbside check-in.
Bone & Joint Center offers Health Services Financing

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