When a patient makes an appointment with a physical therapist to rehabilitate after a shoulder injury, for example, it’s because he wants to get better, right? Well, yes, but what exactly does that mean? As it turns out, “getting better” means different things to different patients. To some, proper recovery from a shoulder injury means being able to carry a golf bag and swing a club while to others, it means being able to lift their children in and out of their car seats.
Here’s the thing: Helping your physical therapist know and understand your own personal goals is the key to success. As a patient, that means speaking up early and often about how the injury is limiting the everyday activities that are most important to you. With this knowledge, your PT can adapt her approach and individualize aspects of the treatment plan to ensure that you meet your goals.
It’s part of a physical therapist’s job description to work with patients to reduce pain and to improve strength, range of motion, balance, and mobility. Your PT will address these aspects of your treatment regardless, but if you return home to unload the dishwasher and realize that you still can’t reach to place the coffee mugs on the shelf, then that’s a problem.
Your PT can’t possibly know everything that’s important to you—or the obstacles that you face—unless you share that information with them. One way around this is to bring a list to your first therapy session of the chores that are most important to you in and around your home and the activities that you participate in that bring you the most joy. To take it a step farther, whittling that list down to one main goal can give you something to focus on in therapy—and motivate you to keep showing up and following the home exercise program that your PT designed. That number-one goal may be different for each patient but the desire to attain it should be the same.
With a little effort on both sides, patients and their PTs can work together to individualize the therapy sessions and select the most appropriate interventions. After all, physical therapists want nothing more than to help their patients return to previous levels of function as quickly and effectively as possible.