What Happens When Your Doctor Recommends Physical Therapy

What Happens When Your Doctor Recommends Physical Therapy

You probably do your best to stay in shape. Maybe a burst of new motivation inspired you to ramp things up a bit – add another activity to your regular workout routine.

In your enthusiasm, maybe you decided to charge full speed ahead instead of taking things slowly to adjust to your new fitness routine. And maybe you ignored your body when it protested over working too hard.

Now you’re dealing with an injury that isn’t serious enough to require surgery, but it’s not responding to home remedies and over-the-counter pain relivers.

Don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends rest and six weeks of physical therapy.

What Is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a treatment that helps improve movement and relieve pain. It may be prescribed following an injury, after surgery or to help manage a chronic condition. It’s usually completed over several weeks or months.  

Afterward, you’ll likely be able to complete daily tasks much more easily and with less pain. More importantly, you’ll have the building blocks to manage your condition or injury so you can continue to improve and avoid further injury.

Do I Need Physical Therapy?

If you’ve experienced a non-urgent injury, you’ll want to see your regular doctor or primary care physician (PCP) first. Your doctor can determine the best course for treatment. Depending on the extent of your injury, you may need surgery or you may be able to treat your injury at home.

The same is true if you have a chronic condition that impairs your mobility. Your doctor will evaluate you to see if physical therapy is right for you.

My Doctor Prescribed Physical Therapy. Now What?

If your doctor has referred you to a physical therapist, your next step is a visit for an evaluation. This may take place in a doctor’s office or in your home. During the first visit, your physical therapist will examine you and develop a care plan tailored to your body and needs. The treatments will reduce pain, restore or improve function, improve mobility and help prevent disability.

Your therapist will also work to reduce swelling in your muscles and joints. This may include massage therapy, ultrasound, heat, cold and other techniques you can try on your own.

Your therapist will also likely use exercise to help you improve. This may include stretching, walking, weight lifting or resistance training. They’ll monitor your movements to help ensure you are doing them correctly. They may also give you exercises to do on your own.

These exercises may change over the course of your treatment, and will likely become a part of your post-treatment life. While you’ll be able to feel the benefits of physical therapy throughout your treatment, one of its goals is to give you the tools you need to better manage your condition and prevent further injury.

Life after Physical Therapy

After you complete your therapy sessions, your physical therapist will give you additional instructions for using what you’ve learned in your regular life. This may include stretches and exercises to do every day, or rules for easing back in to regular activity.

Follow these instructions to get the most out of your physical therapy sessions. It can also help prevent against further injury or pain.

For more information, visit the American Physical Therapy Association.

Sources: Benefits of Physical Therapy,   Choose PT, American Physical Therapy Association, 2021; Improve Quality of Life Through More Movement. Choose Better Health. Choose Physical Therapy,   American Physical Therapy Association, 2021.

Originally published 2/3/2016; Revised 2021