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5 things you can do to make physical therapy more effective

Information provided on the blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or offer treatment plans.

Post-operative therapy, occupational therapy, maintenance therapy (taboo, I know), etc. are all dependent on the person undergoing the treatment. That’s not to say that the therapist or physician don’t have any influence over the success of physical therapy, but a lot of the responsibility falls to the person who actually receives the treatment.

It’s essential that the person undergoing physical therapy realize how much of an influence he/she has on the outcome. Without that understanding, therapy will not be as successful as it can be (or should be), which means more sessions, more dollars, more time, more frustration, and the list could go on.

Think about the following five items and how crucial it is for therapy patients to get in on the game.

1. Show up prepared for therapy

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Duh! Of course I need to be prepared,” but the reality is many people don’t go to their first therapy appointment ready for therapy. Instead, they show up expecting a sit down consultation.

Sure, conversation is good, but conversation doesn’t get you better, doesn’t get you back to the lifestyle you want to lead again, so be a Boy Scout, and be prepared!

What does that mean exactly? Take a gander through this list to find out.

  • Actually show up for appointments. Life happens and therapy can be a frustrating, uncomfortable experience, but each session brings you closer to your goals.
  • Wear appropriate attire. It’s not uncommon for people, especially elderly people, to walk into therapy in jeans, slacks, blouses, etc. Now you’re not signing up for a crazy workout class, but the clothing you wear should allow you freedom of movement and excessive comfort.
  • Know your schedule: when you leave therapy, you’ll probably be asked about scheduling your next session (unless you just finished your last, and then you should celebrate), and it’s easy to say, I’ll call and schedule sometime later, but consistent therapy appointments are important, so again, be prepared.

2. Ask good questions and Speak up

Again, nothing profound or revolutionary, but sometimes we need a little encouragement. How often do we not ask people questions because we’re not sure if it’s stupid? Or shouldn’t we already know the answer? Maybe you’re just not the type to speak up? Well, this is your day to overcome your introverted self and ask responsible questions.

Why is this being done? How will this help me?

Perhaps you struggled with one of the exercises at home. Ask about it. Have the therapist go over it with you again.

Is an exercise in therapy hurting you in a bad way? Definitely speak up! The last thing your therapist wants is for you to be injured more. Be ready, however, to experience a little pain during therapy because we all need to be pushed a little harder every once in awhile.

3. Set your eyes on the goal

One thing that athletes often say is to have a specific goal in mind. Many triathletes keep themselves motivated to work hard by continuing to schedule races.

Likewise, others find making healthy eating choices easier when they have a goal in mind.

The same goes for therapy. What is it you want to do? Get back on the golf course after a shoulder injury? Be able to use your hand again so that you make some delicious fajitas Maybe you would like to be able to walk without limping?

[quote]Whatever goals you have set, keep them in mind![/quote]

When you feel stressed out, exhausted, or sore, you need to remember why you’re going through this. Use that goal as motivation for today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

4. Surround yourself with a network of support

Humans are community-oriented creatures. Even introverts are community-oriented, but just not in the way that American culture defines that term.

With that in mind, you need to know that you draw strength from those around you, or you are drained by those around you.

It’s probably a good idea to sit down with a close friend, spouse, or family member and talk to them about your concerns. A frank discussion can go a long way to helping you build a strong bond of encouragement and support with other people.

Injuries are more than physical. They take an emotional and psychological toll on you as well that makes them that much more difficult to endure. Fortunately, therapists are usually so supportive and encouraging. Seriously, they’re the best.

Sometimes you might need the help and encouragement of your support network. Other times, you might be ready to tackle anything. Great!

Be ready for both.

5. Eat right, and sleep well.

If your diet is junk, you’ll feel like junk, which means you probably won’t really feel like going to physical therapy. Also, if you’re not sleeping well or you’re staying up until 3 in the morning when you have a therapy appointment the next day, you’re probably not going to have as much energy.

The sleeping one is not difficult for most people, but the eating part is. Eating a good snack before therapy will give you energy to make it through, and having some protein afterwards will help your muscles to recover and grow stronger.

It’s not rocket science, but we humans seem to have trouble with some of these things.

Not sure what you should eat before therapy? Here are some suggestions:

  • Granola Bar and Milk
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • a peanut butter and jelly sandwich

How about after therapy?

  • hardboiled eggs are always a good call
  • get into fruit smoothies with protein
  • Chocolate milk is always a good call
  • Peanuts and raisins is a winning combination

This is certainly not a hard and fast list, but maybe it will help you along the way!

As you may have noticed throughout this list, many of these things focus around the mind: choices, encouragement, questions, attitude, etc.

Therapy is not mind over matter; there’s a reason that therapists exist, and they are experts who know how to work your body to help you heal quickly, but the mind does matter, and these 5 things will certainly help your mind be better equipped to handle physical therapy.


Any other tips to add to the list? Have any questions? Ask them below in the comments!

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Jon Gallas, DPT

Jon Gallas is a doctor of physical therapy for OrthoIllinois. He's also an avid runner and biker, who likes to work with endurance athletes to stay healthy and perform better.


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