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Physical Therapy is more than Getting Better

What Brings You to Physical Therapy Today?

When you kick off a new project at work, chances are you spend a fair amount of time setting
and reviewing goals. These goals help you—and those you’ll be working with—get a clear sense
of what you’re looking to achieve and begin to map out a plan of attack. Along with specific
goals, you also probably find it helpful to set some key milestones to ensure that you stay on
task and to prevent your motivation from waning.

These same principles apply when going to physical therapy for an injury. Communicating what
you hope to get out your therapy sessions can help your physical therapist to individualize the
treatment plan and design an exercise program that aligns with your goals. The idea is to move
from “I’m here because my knee hurts” to “I’d like my knee to feel better so I can get back to
doing X, Y and Z.”

Let’s talk about a concrete example to illustrate goal-setting in action: A father of three ruptures
his Achilles tendon while playing a game of pickup basketball after work. When he lands in
rehab, he explains to his PT that he’s due to walk his oldest daughter down the aisle at her
wedding in a few months. This gives the PT a specific goal—and a timeline—to aim for. Of
course, not every patient has a goal tied to such a momentous occasion. It can be as simple as
carrying your groceries to your car unassisted or lifting your grandchild into a high chair. Either
way, it’s important to have goals—and to communicate them clearly to your physical therapist.
Your PT wants you to get better but without the right guidance from you, he might default to
following a checklist and design a program that unknowingly misses your goals. Only you know
precisely what you want out of PT: If you have a wrist injury and getting back to your knitting
hobby is important to you, then be specific! Another patient could come in with the same injury
but have completely different goals, so guide your PT to help you achieve what’s most

Proper communication ensures success, and that means you can’t passively participate in your
care and simply listen to what the PT recommends. Instead, communication needs to be a twoway street. So next time you’re at physical therapy, speak up: Make sure that your PT knows precisely why you’ve made the appointment, what you hope to get out of it and why it’s important to you. This information not only helps your PT make important decisions about your care but also to think of new ways to keep you motivated during therapy.

If you find yourself making an appointment to see a physical therapist for a new injury or a nagging pain, make sure that you prepare in advance. Being prepared to answer this one simple question can help to ensure that rehab is a success: What brings you to physical therapy today?

After all, you wouldn’t walk into a kickoff meeting at work without first giving some thought to the goals that you planned to share with your team, would you?