There are nearly as many reasons to go to physical therapy as there are treatments once you get there, so it’s not surprising you may be wondering what to expect from the process. After all, there’s no, What to Expect When You’re Going to PT book that’s handed out when your doctor recommends making an appointment. So here’s a bit of information to give you a better idea of what that first appointment and the follow up visits will entail.
The First Appointment
Your mind might be swirling with questions, so this article about your first appointment is a good place to start. It covers what to bring with you, what to wear, and how long you can expect the appointment to take.
In order for your physical therapist to provide the best treatments, try to provide a complete picture of your situation. Be sure to mention prior and current injuries and provide a comprehensive medical history. Share your hopes for treatment, whether that be as focused as strengthening your calves or as general as overall improved balance and stability.
You might be surprised by the conditions physical therapy can treat, so although you come in for something like recovery after surgery, with effective communication you might also find yourself treating incontinence.
Who Will I Work With?
The Encore team works together with the same goal–to provide professional and effective treatment with a focus on the needs of the patient. For your initial visit, you’ll meet with one of our skilled physical therapists for a complete evaluation. This is the time to ask questions and provide as much information as you can about your condition and your goals.
Many patients are surprised to see a new face when they arrive for their second visit. That’s because our qualified Physical Therapist Assistants (PTA) commonly meet with patients after the initial visit. The PTA will walk you through warm ups, stretches, exercises, and other movements that increase flexibility, strength, balance, and range of motion. For reduction of pain and inflammation, your PTA may also hook you up with heat, ice, ultrasonic treatment, and manual (hands on) therapy.
Your PT and PTA regularly share information and work together on your treatment plan so there’s no need to explain everything twice. Your PT will monitor your progress through conversations with the PTA and by meeting with you periodically throughout your treatment.
How Long Will it Take?
Near the end of your initial appointment, your PT will outline a plan for additional appointments, often starting at 2-3 times each week and slowly reducing in frequency as you improve. This can come as a shock if you’ve expected to have the issue resolved in a session or two, but be aware the number of appointments depends on several factors including insurance, budget, your schedule, and your area of concern. Typically you will make appointments for the first few weeks and reevaluate the frequency as you progress.
Depending on what you’re dealing with, PT can help in a few visits or can be ongoing for months.
What Can I Expect From Treatments?
Patients have all kinds of perceived notions about what physical therapy looks like. Regardless of the image you have in mind, it’s probably not that. The first rule is physical therapy should never hurt. You may have some discomfort during certain movements, but pain is a boundary to pay attention to.
The goal of PT is to reduce or eliminate that pain by correcting the core issue. Typically that revolves around strengthening and improving flexibility. This is not an exercise class. Don’t expect to break a sweat or break records for an upcoming spin class. Most PT is centered around minute movements–with surprising results. You may feel like you’re doing basically nothing, yet soon you’ll see how those micromovements lead to improvement.
Much of the work you do will be in between appointments. After each appointment, your PT or PTA will provide you with written or printed sheets outlining exercises to work on at home. The more closely you follow your homework plan, the more improvement you will see. During your next appointment your PT will ask how the homework is going, evaluate your progress, and suggest new work-at-home activities to continue your improvements.
Be Open to Suggestions
You might remember the childhood song, “The Skeleton Dance,” with lyrics like, “The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone.” Even though you seek treatment for pain in one area, the core of the problem may lie elsewhere. So don’t be surprised if treatment for lower back pain involves stretching your calves or relaxing your hips. Similarly, even though you might feel like the exercises aren’t challenging enough, trust your PT to keep you at the right level of progress. Feel free to communicate concerns, but give the process a chance and be patient as you work together to achieve your goals.