"How to Get the Most Out of Your Physical Therapy Sessions"

It may sound cliche, but mindset is everything! The vast majority of our clients enter our office with fears predicated upon what their family & friends, physician, or even worse the “Google Doctor” has told them.

Part of what we do as physical therapists is dispel myths that have been circulating throughout the traditional healthcare system. You’ve been told that your pain is due to your arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, torn cartilage, etc. The best prescription is pain meds, injections or surgery. Or maybe even worse, you’ve been told to rest and stop doing the activity that’s causing you pain. “You shouldn’t lift weights or run because it’s bad for your knees”.

Let me tell you, in 99% of cases this is your physician, chiropractor, or physical therapist taking the easy way out. They don’t have the time to assess what’s really going on and figure out how to help you. The simple truth is that you deserve better!

It’s time to change your mindset, and shift your focus to proactively address your pain or injury. I’m willing to bet that no one has had this discussion with you. What’s the real secret to freeing yourself from chronic pain and feeling empowered to combat it long-term. Let’s dive in. Here are the five most important questions you need to ask yourself to get the most out of your physical therapy sessions…

  1. Do you believe the purpose of going to your physical therapist is so they can “fix” you?

    Here’s the ironic truth, as a physical therapist I don’t have the ability to “fix” you. At least not in the way you might think. Most of our clients that have been to PT in the past had a much different experience. They may have been told that heat/ice, e-stim, cupping & scraping, or dry needling is the quick ticket to help fix their pain. The truth is that all of these things are fleeting, and won’t provide long-term results. My role as a PT is to educate you on the steps you need to take for long-term success. We advise you on how to “treat” yourself and “fix” your issue long-term. This often times includes a discussion on sleep, nutrition, & increasing your activity level.

  2. Are you prioritizing sleep, nutrition, stress management & exercise consistently?

    There’s a ton of research coming out that demonstrates the importance of sleep and the effects it has on your health. Limited sleep has been shown to cause decreased immunity, depression, chronic pain, and increased risk for injury. Poor nutrition also plays a large role in immune function, mental health & systemic inflammation. Stress is often times the hidden factor in causing health problems and chronic pain. Lack of consistent exercise contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and yet again chronic pain. Needless to say if you aren’t addressing all of these factors throughout the rehab process you may have limited results.

  3. Do you have a positive outlook on your ability to get healthy?

    Many of our clients that have dealt with chronic pain feel powerless or hopeless about their ability to heal. This is a huge roadblock for success in rehab. The best way to approach a difficult situation is projecting positive thoughts and understanding that this is a process. By taking a proactive approach to resolving your issue you’ll feel more empowered and capable moving forward. Understand that by finding the root cause of your pain and having a plan to attack it will yield the best possible outcome!

  4. Are you committed to sticking with the plan?

    We hear it all the time in our clinic, “I just didn’t have time to get my exercises in this week”. I know I need to do it, I just didn’t have the time. We understand, life gets in the way sometimes. You go on vacation, the in-laws were in town, your son had a baseball tournament this past weekend. What I tell my clients from day one is, what you do outside of our office is the “X-factor”. I have so many people that leave after a session that feel amazing. They’re moving better and feeling pain free. The following week they come back in the same shape they were in to start. I can dry needle you, educate you on the best exercises, and coach you on proper technique in the weight room. If you don’t commit to taking care of yourself outside of the one hour we work together each week, there’s no way I can help you!

  5. Are you measuring success only based on your improvement with pain?

    I would say 99% of our clients first come to us because they are in pain. They either have chronic issues or an acute injury that has kept them out of the sport or activity they enjoy. It’s understandable that you may be preoccupied with finding out why you’re having pain. In many cases it’s not an easy answer. Pain can be a complex output caused by many different factors, just review Question #2 for instance. Your pain is not always caused by damaged tissue in the body. It is simply a direct output from your nervous system (brain) that lets you know something is wrong. The better benchmark of success with rehab is your improvement in movement quality. Are you able to reach your shoulder overhead more easily? Has your squat depth improved? These functional gains are the true measure of success & are a better predictor of long-term improvement.

Now that you have the road map to success in rehab it’s time to get to work!

-Ryan Godfrey, PT, DPT