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What to Expect at Your First Physical Therapy Appointment (Guest Post)

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(Note from Dr. Carter – Once again I asked one of our local physical therapists, George Herbig II, to share his insights, this time about what to expect at your first physical therapy appointment.)

You have scheduled your first appointment for physical therapy.  Below are some commonly asked questions about what to bring, what to wear, and what to expect.

What should you bring to your physical therapy appointment?

For your first appointment you should bring your insurance card, photo ID, your doctor’s orders and protocols (if applicable), a list of your medications, and relevant medical history.  If your insurance requires a co-payment you will need to bring that as well.  If you have a deductible some providers may require a payment at the time of treatment.  Check with your clinic about their billing practices.  Bring your appointment book (or whatever you use to keep track of your appointments) so that after your first appointment is completed you can schedule your follow-up appointments.

What sort of paperwork will be required for physical therapy?

Yes the necessary evil!  You will have to sign some form of consent (if you are under 18 your parent or guardian will need to sign for you) and a medical history form. This is where bringing your list of medications and a list of your relevant medical history will come in handy.  Most clinics will have some type of body diagram and a functional questionnaire to fill out based on your condition.  You may want to check when you schedule to see if the clinic would like you to arrive early to do the paperwork.  Sometimes your therapy provider will have the forms available on-line that you can fill out in advance to save time.

What should I wear to my physical therapy appointment?

Most importantly you might want to know what not to wear.  Suits, dresses, and skirts are usually not recommended for therapy.  Comfortable clothing is usually best for physical therapy.  If you are having a neck or shoulder problem ladies may want to wear some type of sports bra to make the area easier to examine.  If you are having low-back problems clothing that will allow your therapist to examine your spine is preferable.  If you are having hip, knee, or ankle problems shorts are a great idea to bring to your first appointment.  Rolling up your pants leg is not preferable when examining the hip or knee as it may distort the shape of your thigh or have a tourniquet effect.  If you are having a neck or shoulder problem and you have longer hair you also might want to bring a ponytail holder.

What will happen at my first physical therapy appointment?

During the evaluation phase of your appointment, your therapist will review your medical history with you.  She will screen the area that she is evaluating.  For example, if you are having a neck problem the therapist should observe the range of motion of your neck and upper extremities and the strength of your neck and upper extremities.  She also may perform some special testing to rule in/rule out certain pathologies to specifically assess the problem.

If you are a post-surgical patient you will still be evaluated, because although the surgeon has determined the condition, the appropriate therapy treatment needs to be determined by the therapist based on the evaluation and type of surgery. It is recommended the therapist do a bilateral assessment of the area being treated.  For example, if she determines that your knee motion is limited on the right she should measure the motion on both the right and left knee as well as test the strength, etc.

What will physical therapy treatment be like?

After the condition has been assessed the therapist should educate the patient about what the appropriate treatment should be and what the goals of treatment should be.  A discussion of how often he wants to treat you should also take place at that time.  He should also attempt to educate you about the condition he is treating. Most clinics will at least initiate some treatment on the first day so that when you come back for the following appointment the therapist can assess the benefits of the treatment.  The treatments may include exercises, hands on therapy treatment, and/or modalities such as heat, ice, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation.

After your appointment you may experience soreness from using muscles you haven’t used in awhile. Some people feel much better from the treatment received, while others initially feel no different at all. It will take time and commitment on your part for the therapy to work.

What will I leave my physical therapy appointment with?

After your first appointment your therapist should provide you with some verbal instructions and a written and illustrated home exercise program as appropriate.  Sometimes he will also have some equipment recommendations.  He will likely want to schedule your follow-up appointments before you leave the first appointment, which is why you need to bring your appointment book with you.

George Herbig II, PT is co-owner of Therapeutic Interventions located in LaGrange and Campbellsburg, Kentucky.  He can be reached at georgeherbig@tiptky.com or 502-222-6446.

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