What types of patients get the most out of their PT treatment?

What types of patients get the most out of their PT treatment? –An observation


As a practicing PT, I see a myriad of people. I give similar spiels to each of them about how PT works and how it can be most effective (please see my first post  –Expectations for Your PT ) but it really seems to me that healing cannot happen without you. Sounds corny, but hear me out.


PT is NOT a “passive” form of treatment –or it could be, but you probably won’t see quick progress.


Those patients who come to physical therapy, cannot articulate their pain, or are not sure why they are in PT, will not gain as much benefit from PT as someone who has a better understanding of their injury.   


I’m teaching you a new skill –it doesn’t just involve how to take care of yourself. It is also trying to teach you to understand what your body is feeling and how to become aware of how your body moves. It is being able to feel and correct the flaws in how you move. It’s not an easy thing to do, and some people are naturally better at this than others. Dancers for instance, have a great body awareness and a sense of what is going on in their bodies. This is because they have honed this skill through years of dancing and moving. But some people have no idea where their body is in space.


Aside from being able to articulate where your pain/injury is, it is important to know when you notice it, with what movements, and what makes it better/worse. These are all very important details that help make your treatment more effective, and you will see quicker results. If not, PTs are left trying to pull the information out of you in order to give you the best treatment.


I once read that with back pain diagnoses, 80% of what you use to diagnose the back pain comes from the patient’s subjective report and only 20% comes from our own objective test/measures. Therefore, if you are able to articulate these things to your healthcare provider, it will help you achieve a quicker recovery.


Example – Patient Mr. Smith walks in with back pain with a prescription from their doctor that says back pain. Mr. Smith tells therapist – ‘I have back pain’


Therapist: When did the back pain begin?


Mr. Smith: Years ago.


Therapist: Do you remember a mechanism of injury or anything contributing to your pain?


Mr. Smith: No.


Therapist: Does it feel worse with sitting, standing, or walking?


Mr. Smith: It all hurts.


Therapist: Does it hurt worse at certain times of day? Or with certain activities like bending forward or back?


Mr. Smith: It all hurts.


Therapist: Can you point to where exactly you feel the pain?


Mr. Smith: [points to his entire back]


Now either Mr. Smith has a serious pathology and needs to go to the ER or Mr. Smith really doesn’t have a good assessment of his injury and just knows that he feels pain.


Try not to be like Mr. Smith and if you don’t know the answers to these questions right away, see if you can start to notice. In other words, start listening to your body’s cues. Your body is telling you valuable information that will be helpful in your recovery. Don’t be a passive patient, be active in your treatment plan. Try to figure what daily activities could be either aggravating or helping your injury.


I love trying to brainstorm with patients what they are feeling, and why they are feeling it. You then are better able to figure out how to fix it and how to correct the body mechanics that may have caused the injury in the first place. There is also a lot of research that suggests once you understand what is causing your pain, you will start to feel better, especially with chronic pain.


Case in point, if you come into PT, lie on the table, don’t pay attention to the treatment and do nothing on your own, your chance of success with PT is much lower. However, those who are actively participating, learning, and taking responsibility for what they do outside of their session will see the positive changes much sooner.