July 18, 2022

How to Prepare for Your First Physical Therapy Appointment

So you’ve scheduled your first physical therapy appointment…now what?

The first day of physical therapy, the PT will perform an evaluation of symptoms to figure out what’s going on
with your muscles and bones, and will make a plan for treatment in weeks to come.

Here’s are some tips to be best prepared for the first day:

Pay attention to your symptoms prior to the visit

Your PT will be asking you questions to like “what time of day is the pain worse”, “what
activities increase the pain”, “how far does the pain travel down your arm/leg”, and “what makes
your pain better?”. This helps us to figure out what may be causing the pain. Before your first
session happens, pay attention to when the pain is worse, what activities provoke the pain, and
what, if anything, makes it better. Think about how you want to describe your pain. Common
pain descriptors include sharp/stabbing, dull ache, deep ache, burning, and tingling. This helps
the PT try to distinguish whether pain is muscular, neurological, or vascular in nature.

Think of some goals to get back to

Physical therapy focuses on getting you back to functional activities, and we write goals
to make sure we stay on track to getting you back to daily life without restriction. Before your
first appointment, notice activities that are painful and limited that normally don’t cause pain.
Take note of how long you’re able to do tasks before pain starts. For example, notice how long
you’re able to walk before your back starts to hurt, or how long you’re able to sit at your desk
before your headache starts. This will help your PT to get an idea of your current functional level
so they can set attainable goals.

Clothing to wear

If possible, it is a good idea to wear stretchy, comfortable clothes. You will likely be
moving in different directions during the PT’s assessment, and sometimes tighter, more rigid
clothing can restrict movement. If possible, wear clothing that will allow for the painful region to
be exposed and palpated at some point. PTs gain a lot of information from palpating (firmly
touching) painful areas, and it’s easier for us to feel what’s going on if we are touching skin
instead of clothing.

Will physical therapy hurt?

Discomfort may be a more accurate word than pain, but truthfully, yes, there may
sometimes be a bit of pain on the first day of physical therapy. In order to rule in or rule out
which muscles/tendons/ligaments are dysfunctional, we have to provoke pain. Not only does
this help us to figure out what’s going on in your body, but it helps us to make a plan that is best
suited to you. Rest assured, there is a reason for the uncomfortable aspects of a physical
therapy evaluation, and your PT will move through them as quickly as possible to get you on the
path to feeling better.