What to Expect at Your First Physical Therapy Appointment
If you have never been to a PT, you might not know what to expect at your first physical therapy appointment. This article will summarize what a typical initial PT appointment involves. Making the decision to seek out a good physical therapist is only the first step. You must also find the right clinic to meet your fitness goals and objectives.
In the majority of cases, a patient is referred to physical therapy by their doctor. This means they go to the appointment with a prescription for physical therapy. However, direct access is now available in many states. This allows patients to see a physical therapist without a prescription or doctor’s referral. Many people report great experiences with finding a good physical therapist using this method, so consider it!
Whether you’ve got a doctor’s referral or have sourced a PT appointment based on the PT specialties you need, going to the clinic isn’t the beginning. Your visit actually starts before you step foot in the door of your clinic, so be prepared!
What to Expect Before Your First Physical Therapy Appointment
It is recommended to wear shorts or loose pants that you can roll up, a tank top (depending on your injury), and comfortable sneakers. Your therapist needs to be able to see and touch your injured area. Therefore, it is important to wear appropriate clothing for the best visualization.
Prior to meeting the therapist, you will be asked to provide information that includes the following.
- Your medical and surgical history
- Current medications
- The primary reason for the appointment.
It may also include a survey that asks you about any limitations you are having that are due to the reason you are seeking treatment. It might seem like a lot of information to provide, but the more thorough a physical therapy clinic is, the better. Your PT appointments won’t always require you to fill out this information.
Make sure you collect any pertinent medical documents that you want to share with your therapist and bring them with you. Also, keep a list of activities that are bothering you throughout your daily life, so you don’t forget once you get to PT. A good physical therapist keeps patients involved throughout their course of care. This applies to months that aren’t National Physical Therapy Month, after patients begin to feel better, and even near the end of their sessions. Being involved 100% of the time is necessary for successful PT appointments.
Often, you will be asked to mark their pain or other symptoms on a body chart. All of this information will be reviewed by the therapist prior to your first physical therapy appointment. It will help the physical therapist begin the process of evaluating you and determining the proper exercises and treatment plan.
Coming 10-15 minutes earlier than your scheduled appointment time is advised. Doing so ensures you have time to fill out all the necessary paperwork. It also means you won’e cut into your evaluation time with the therapist.
What to Expect While At a Physical Therapy Appointment
The Q & A
Once the one on one portion of the appointment begins, you can expect to spend about 45 min to 1 hour with the therapist. This will include the evaluation as well as your treatment.
During the first part of the evaluation, the therapist asks you key questions about your pain or reason for seeking treatment. You will need to provide information regarding:
- When your symptoms started – and what may have caused them
- What things increase or decrease your symptoms
- What other treatments you have sought for this
- Information about any imaging you have received
- Answers to other questions the physical therapist will use to guide the next portion of your exam.
The therapist will also ask what your goal is for physical therapy. This way, the PT and you will be on the same page about what to expect at your first physical therapy appointment and beyond. This is also to ensure you both are aware of what you want to accomplish in these sessions.
The Physical Exam
The next portion of your first physical therapy appointment is the physical examination. During this, the PT will ask you to go through movements. Additionally, they will take measurements and palpate areas of the body to determine where there may be tenderness, swelling, or restricted tissue. Finally, they will perform special or standardized tests that will formulate the baseline assessment for you specifically. All of this will happen as the therapist asks for feedback from you about your symptoms. This is where researching your potential physical therapist comes in handy. The more inquisitive and thorough they are during this portion of treatment, the better. Look for a good physical therapist with good patient reviews.
The Treatment Plan
Once the therapist has completed the evaluation, treatment can begin. This likely includes teaching you a home exercise program tailored to your specific needs. The physical therapist will determine those needs during the physical exam. Starting physical therapy happens for many reasons – what’s yours? Every patient has different fitness and wellness goals, so don’t be shy about what you want – and what you expect from each PT appointment. Your physical therapist is going to recommend a very specific course of action – and you’ll need to follow closely.
This may include stretching, strengthening, or postural correction exercises you will be asked to do at home. If warranted, manual therapy or other modalities may be initiated at your first physical therapy appointment, too. This could include soft tissue or joint mobilization, taping, and heat/ice.
What to Expect at the End of Your First Physical Therapy Appointment
Education will always be an aspect of what to expect at a physical therapy appointment. The PT will have information that they can share about the diagnosis. They will also let you know how to manage symptoms at home, and what to expect during the typical course of physical therapy. The session will end with a time for questions and a review of what to work on (your personalized Home Exercise Program) prior to the next visit with the therapist.
Schedule Your First Physical Therapy Appointment Today
Now that you know what to expect at a physical therapy appointment and your clinic, it’s time to actually book one! Use the BetterPT clinic location tool or download the mobile app to find a physical therapy clinic near you that specializes in the type of treatment you need.
It’s now easier than ever to find and book a PT appointment without worrying about doctor referrals, wondering if the clinic takes your insurance, or having to settle for an inconvenient time or location. Find a PT you can trust at a quality clinic and start getting the treatment you need today. One new option for your first physical therapy appointment? Virtual physical therapy with Better Telehealth. Telemedicine is growing in popularity, and it’s even available for PT appointments.
Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology in 2005 and went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. She has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. Marla continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.