What to Expect From Physical Therapy


Walking into a complex offering physical therapy can be somewhat daunting.  You can see a lot of unusual items set around the treatment room, along with more familiar exercise equipment.  If you are in pain from in illness or injury, some of the things you see may make you just a bit nervous.  If the therapists in this room are properly trained, you don’t need to be nervous at all.

The first thing that will be done after an assessment and before PT starts will be something to warm up the area to be worked on.  Heating pads are a good start, and they actually feel pretty good.  This warm up will help make your muscles and joints work better and less likely to be painful.  After your session, you may also have an ice pack, in order to reduce any inflammation the workout caused.  That, too, feels pretty good.

When the areas that need therapy are load bearing, aquatic therapy may be recommended.  This makes it a “no impact” session and provides resistance to help build up muscles faster.  This can also be done for problems in non-load bearing joints, if that is what the doctor thinks is best for you.  (Don’t worry if you can’t swim, most of these exercises are done in the shallow end of the pool, and they understand those of us who are afraid of large amounts of water.)

You can expect some sort of monitoring during PT.  If you are in it as part of cardiac rehab, this monitoring is especially important and may include leads that will show any rhythm problems and other abnormalities.  For injury related PT, it will probably be just watching and listening so as to avoid further damage.

If you feel pain, stop and tell the therapist.  You have probably been told to take something for pain half an hour before your session.  If not, ask.  The therapist may know it will be painful, so you may be given advance warning and other instructions.  Otherwise, it may be a sign that your body is not yet ready for the exercise given it.  

There are usually two main goals of this sort of exercise.  One is to relieve pain and the other is to improve range of motion.  Both of these are done by a series of exercises that gradually build up stretch muscles, tendons and ligaments back close to their original length and to train the muscles to help the joints do the job.

You may notice some stiffness, both when doing the exercises and afterward.  This is normal at the beginning, but should improve as you go through the sessions your doctor ordered.  If not enough improvement is seen, you may be given a different type of PT.

Do expect your muscles to be tired.  If you have not exercised the muscles for any stretch of time prior to beginning, it will take time before they can handle the extra requirements being made of them.  This is different from muscle pain, which is also a possibility.

PT is an important tool that can help you recover from serious problems and get back to your normal routines.  It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before, during and after going through the process. The doctor can then fine tune what you are doing so that you achieve that laudable goal.

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