How to get an A+ in PT!

Athletic trainer working on athlete

No one wants to deal with an injury. It’s never a convenient time, it can get expensive both to diagnose and treat the injury, and being in pain on a daily basis stinks. An injury often interrupts one’s daily routine, and it may even keep you from doing things that you enjoy. However, therapeutic rehabilitation with a physical therapist or athletic trainer can be a good option for a lot of reasons. It’s a conservative treatment, meaning it’s non-invasive; it’s low-risk, so it can be a good option to try prior to surgery (if applicable); and its approaches can often be incorporated into normal daily activities for long-term relief from injury.

athletic trainer helping football player

So to help you achieve your rehabilitation success, I’ve compiled a list of things you can do as a patient to improve your journey to healing, for both you and your clinician.

  1. The most important one is: do your home exercises! Your compliance as the patient is a major factor in physical therapy and a good predictor of your success outcomes. If you don’t adhere to your home program, it’s really hard as a clinician to know if our treatment plan will work. If you want to get better, listen to your clinician’s recommendations. The best physical therapist in the world can’t help if you aren’t doing what you’re supposed to (or if you’re doing what you’re not supposed to be doing).
    • This goes for things your doctor/surgeon tells you as well – there are good reasons for post-op protocols, and they are usually to protect you from yourself. You may be feeling great, but your body is still healing and you don’t want to end up back at square one because you took things too fast.
  1. Set goals with your AT/PT – contribute to the process, and be both realistic and specific. Feel free to have an open discussion with your therapist about what you want or need to be able to do at the end of your therapy journey. It helps to work towards a functional goal, not just trying to eliminate your pain. Goals can help keep you motivated and focused on your rehab. Keep goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
  1. Give the rehab that you’re prescribed a real chance; having an open mind can change your entire experience. If your mind is made up that physical therapy won’t help, then it won’t help. Your clinician may want to try something new or different that may not seem helpful to your injury. But as I always tell my patients, everything in your body is connected, and sometimes treating a different area can have a direct impact on what’s ailing you. And having a positive attitude can make all the difference in your recovery.
  1. Please don’t try to dictate your own treatment (or self-diagnose) – having access to the internet does not make people experts (nor does watching medical dramas). Sometimes patients do get it right, but more often than not this type of “research” is less than helpful. Rather, try to provide your clinician with all the relevant information during your initial evaluation and on a day-to-day basis so they can decide on the best course of treatment. Ask your clinicians all your questions, and rely on them to be the expert.  It’s great to contribute ideas and work together as a team, but let your clinician ultimately give their recommendation.
  1. Communicate and BE HONEST – There is no benefit to lying about how your injury occurred, how you’re feeling, etc. Also, your feedback is important, and sometimes we need to adjust the plan of care if something isn’t working. It’s important for you to understand your injury so ask questions as well. If you’re working with multiple clinicians, be sure they’re aware of it and working together – a teamed approach is always going to work better than two different disciplines counteracting or even duplicating each other’s treatment. Also if you’re an athlete working with both a physical therapist and your athletic trainer, help facilitate communication whenever possible, i.e. Anne let me do these activities at last night’s practice with this taping and here’s how it went.
  1. Don’t quit your rehab early, finish your prescribed plan of care or you could re-injure yourself. Full recovery takes time, and it can get boring, repetitive and just plain frustrating. Therapy doesn’t have to be complicated to be beneficial, and building strength takes consistency and proper form. But the number one predictor of future injury is previous injury – and you are at an even higher risk of re-injury if you just stop therapy and return to your activity before you’re cleared to do so.
  1. Continue doing your home exercise program even after discharge. In some cases, you can discontinue once you’ve returned to your previous level of function; but in a lot of cases, especially for adults, these exercises should just be incorporated into your daily routine or workout. And this doesn’t necessarily mean all of the exercises you’ve ever done, but the ones you were still doing regularly when you were discharged. Usually by the end of your rehab, you know which exercises are the most helpful to you. If your same symptoms start returning, usually your home exercise program is a good place to start, so always save them.
  1. Control your controllables. There are some aspects of healing that cannot be rushed, but things like poor sleep hygiene and poor nutrition choices can work against your recovery. As previously emphasized, you determine how well you follow your home care instructions. You determine your posture, and how often you stretch or foam roll, or do your exercises. All these things can combine to either help or hinder your rehabilitation goals.

All in all, we are here to help you figure out what’s wrong and teach you how to fix it; but it’s a patient’s responsibility to do the things that are recommended. Accountability on the patient’s end is a huge factor in whether their rehabilitation will be successful. If you aren’t going to adhere to the prescribed plan of care, all of the effort that goes into education and building a home exercise program will not be successful long term. We want every one of our patients to return to the activities that are important to them, whether that’s sport, or just playing with your grandkids again. A lot of these may seem like common sense, but many people don’t realize that they can take an active role in their own recovery. Hopefully, following some of these recommendations will make everybody’s recovery just a little bit easier.

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