If you’ve never had physical therapy before, or if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, taking the first step out the door can be scary. You may be concerned about what to expect, does it hurt? Does it work too? Can they do more harm than good? Proper physical therapy treatment is a very collaborative way and ensures that you become a part of this process at every step.
What happens during a physical therapy session?
Your physical therapy sessions last between 45 minutes and an hour. They are completely dependent on the information you give the physical therapist and the progress you have made.
Much of your first session will try to learn about yourself and your situation. This part of the session is called “subjective assessment.”
- Physical therapy session
- Origin of the condition: How long have you had the condition, how did it start, was it an accident or chronic injury or stress?
- Have you already seen a practitioner?
- What does it do well, what makes it worse?
- How does it affect your daily life?
- What are your job and interests (which may be affected by an injury)?
Your physical therapist will also take your medical history to check if your current condition may be related to an existing condition. It is important to provide all of this information because the advice a physical therapist gives you is safe and can help you formulate a hypothesis of injury. This will help both of you determine your goals and expectations for treatment.
The next step in this first appointment is to physically evaluate your injury, which is called an “objective evaluation.” At this point, you will be asked to perform a series of movements that will help show where the stiffness or discomfort is. This evaluation helps to confirm the damage hypothesis made in the subjective evaluation.
The combination of these two evaluations can help rule out something more concerning or give the physical therapist reasons to refer you to a specialist.
If you have time, at the end of this session you can be given some treatment or you can do the exercises you need to do at home. Your physical therapist will determine what the goal of this treatment is and what you can accomplish with it. If you have exercises to do, they will show you how to do them and give you an information sheet to guide you as you do them at home.
Recover with physical therapy
Your next learning session will begin with a discussion again:
- How have you been since the last date?
- If there is any change in the situation,
- And if you were given exercises, how did you find them?
Your physical therapist will conduct another objective evaluation, checking for any changes since your last appointment. If you are receiving treatment at your first appointment, the physical therapist will use this assessment to determine if you need to change it. If they give you exercises, for example, they will progress or change depending on the results.
If you are not given any treatment or measurements in the first session, you will be in second place. You will be instructed what to do and an email or hard copy will be given to assist you while you are at home.
Follow the sessions
Your physical therapist will reevaluate your condition at each session and you will decide together if you need a follow-up appointment, if it is safe to continue treatment yourself, or if you have recovered.
The time between sessions reflects the situation. If you need the next session, usually not next week, it will give you time to make improvements.
You may be given additional exercises as you improve throughout treatment, or you may be able to stop them altogether.
You will not be discharged from treatment until you believe that you can continue treatment on your own or have recovered from your injury. It takes a long time to recover from some conditions like ACL surgery, but with most conditions, people will find that they can complete physical therapy treatment in five sessions or less.
Top tips for a successful physical therapy treatment
- The most important thing is to communicate in sessions. It is important to fully inform your physical therapist and listen to their advice.
- Be active in your treatment – make sure you are disciplined about exercises and actions as prescribed. This is to make sure you take your action medicine. If you don’t take it, you won’t recover.
- Use common sense and listen to your body. If it starts to hurt too much, your body will tell you that it has gone too far.