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iStock 000019872183XSmallAs a physical therapist (PT) I appreciate that it can be very difficult for the average person to know what to expect from their physical therapist. Some people have the benefit of comparing their experience with friends or family who have also had physical therapy but it's still difficult to know what you can expect of a physical therapist.

Physical therapists are required to go to school 6-7 years after high school and currently most physical therapy programs graduate students with a DPT (Doctorate in Physical Therapy). Physical Therapists are found in several different settings in healthcare. They are in the hospitals, nursing homes, rehab facilities, outpatient clinics and they even come to your home when you meet the qualifications under your insurance. Physical therapists have a wide range of specialties and while some choose to specialize in certain areas such as orthopedics or neurology, many others have experience seeing people with a wide range of health issues.

Here a few things you should expect the physical therapist to do, regardless of which setting you see him/her in:

  1. A Physical Therapist should listen to you: The best physical therapists pride themselves on being good listeners. On your first visit the PT should ask you questions about your medical history, your pain and what your goal for therapy is. Your goal should be incorporated into the treatment plan by the PT.
  2. Perform a thorough evaluation: A PT goes through several years of training to learn how do accurate and thorough evaluations. At a minimum, the first time you see a PT he/she should check your range of motion (how far your arms and legs bend and straighten), your strength, your mobility (walking or using a wheelchair) as well as your sitting and standing balance. The PT will likely check other things as well depending on what setting you are in and what you are seeing him/her for.
  3. Give you a Written Home Exercise Program: This should include pictures and written instructions of exercises the PT gave you during your PT session. The PT may or may not do this on the first evaluation visit, but he/she should definitely do this on follow up visits. This instruction should also include signs and symptoms to be aware of that may indicate you are overdoing it.
  4. Explain the purpose of the treatment/Home Exercise Program: A good PT will always explain to you why they are doing what they are doing during your time with him/her. If they don't- ask!
    The explanation should be easy for you to understand without a lot of technical terms. The PT should also explain how the treatment/exercises are going to improve your quality of life and help you reach your goal.
  5. Communicate with your doctor: Knowing that doctors are very busy, a good PT will still make a strong effort to communicate with your doctor, by phone or fax. This should involve telling the doctor what the PT has found in his/her evaluation of you. The PT should also communicate with your doctor if you are having any issues or aren't progressing with therapy.

As a PT, I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to help people feel better and be more independent. It is an extremely rewarding profession and one I would encourage others to consider. I do feel that all PT's are obligated to do the absolute best they can to help each and every person they come in contact with.

Are you unsteady on your feet or have weakness in your legs? If so and you need someone with you when you leave the home to help you get out for appointments, you may qualify for a Physical Therapist to come to your home. 

Published in Blog