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3 critical questions your PT will ask

August 30, 2021

Guest blog: Ross Von Glahn, PT, DPT
Clinic manager of Siskin Hospital’s Outpatient Therapy Services in Hixson

Knee replacement? Athletic injury? Back pain?

Your physician may have recommended physical therapy to treat pain, general weakness and balance. So you make the appointment and head down to the clinic for your first session, ready to do whatever is necessary to get your life back. It will be helpful to know up front that one of the first things your physical therapist will ask you to do is to answer three key questions.

What are your physical limitations?

Your physical therapist (PT) will need to know how much pain, weakness or other impairments you are experiencing, and how those conditions may be limiting your functional ability. This is crucial to understanding the problem and how it is affecting your quality of life. It will help to determine a treatment plan that is meaningful to you. So while your PT knows that you care about reaching for a glass in the kitchen cabinet, he will be assessing to what degree your shoulder flexion is. He will try to find out the source of the problem and help you get back to doing what you want to do.

Your responses about physical limitations will also provide insights to the initial physical therapy evaluation, which measures muscle strength or weakness, joint restriction, or range of motion. For example, you may report that you can’t do basic garden or yard work because of knee pain. Your PT might find through the evaluation that your pain comes from weak gluteal muscles and tight quadriceps or hamstrings. The evaluation results determine the course of action needed to alleviate the pain.

What are your goals?

It’s important to share your goals with your PT, whatever they may be, such as riding a horse, hiking the Appalachian Trail, or getting back to school, childcare or work. Knowing your goals will help your PT select specific treatment modalities that will make your therapy sessions focused and meaningful.

For instance, if you are suffering stroke impairments and you have a newborn baby at home, the treatment plan will focus on more than just general stroke recovery. Your PT will want to improve your strength and balance so that you can safely pick up and carry your baby. She may develop creative strategies, such as writing the baby’s name on a ball and having you lift and carry it across the room, simulating your normal, everyday activities.

What is your level of commitment?

Ultimately, your success will depend on your determination to stick to the treatment plan during the entire course of your physical therapy and beyond that when you’re on your own. Your PT will teach you the exercises you need to complete your recovery and recommend lifestyle changes to prevent the re-emergence of pain.

Be honest with your PT about your commitment level and ability. That way, decision making is shared and the PT can design a treatment plan that’s relevant to your life and more likely to be adhered to, giving you the best possible outcome.