You can’t “just do what your PT says”

Take responsibility for your own recovery

Without questioning the competence and dedication of the Physical Therapist assigned to you by your insurer, be forewarned: what you’re getting from them is likely not enough for a full and complete recovery.

If you visit a PT twice a month, for 30-45 minutes, much of it spent assessing and talking, then you’re not going to have time to learn stretches, stability and strengthening exercises, keep progressing and get periodic checkups on what you are already doing. Your progress is not going to be rapid, and you are more likely to be heading to a 60-70% recovery instead of 100%.

Whether or not you get additional PT outside what your insurer provides, here are some suggestions for getting the most benefit from your physical therapy.

Show up ready to do the work

Make sure you’ve stretched that morning and arrive on time, hydrated, and wearing appropriate clothing and footwear.

Don’t let the time get sucked up with non-essential Q&A.

Show your respect by doing your homework. If you’re not doing your exercises, then you join the ranks of your PT’s clients who are headed for suboptimal outcomes. How do you think that makes them feel about their work?  If you are motivated and keep up, you will inspire them to give their all for you.

A good PT will be gently correcting your form

One example from me: when making a rowing movement (resistance provided by tubing with handles or weight equipment), my PT observed a tendency to not fully extend my arms. The shoulders themselves should remain in place.  When your PT corrects your movement, make sure you do it correctly a few times, to take an impression of the new way of moving.  Next time you do that exercise, take particular care to integrate the new way and strengthen the new habit   It matters because you’ll be repeating these movements many times.

What’s the hurry?

How quickly we lift and lower weights is important. Most likely, at home, you’ll be trying to zip through your exercises, and not getting the full benefit. Remember, we’re lifting weights to create micro-tears in the muscle fibers so they can rebuild stronger. Often, the work is in the gradual release. So slow down, and enjoy the knowledge that you are doing your work!  Turn on your favorite music so the activity is satisfying in itself and you are less concerned with getting it over with.

Pay attention

  • How is your PT modifying your workout based on the information you’re providing?  If you arrive and say you’ve had a setback and are sore, how do they use your time? What of that can you retain and then use on your own when you’re feeling sore?
  • Beyond the form and rate of exercise, there’s also the way they vary exercises or have you do variations that add incremental challenge. Once you master an exercise (for example, a bicep curl), they might have you balance on one leg while you do the curls. Or stand on a wobble board (those are both advanced variations).
  • There’s also how exercises are sequenced together to address major muscle groups and then finishing with some balance work using a wobble board, elliptical trainer or physioball to promote integration. As my trainer says, “as we train, so we develop”. Our training should include whole body movements like elliptical trainers (with arms) and stationary bicycles (the kind with arms) so our isolated muscle training is in the service of better overall integration.

Stay hydrated and nourished

Before and after exercise, give your body the nutrients and water it needs to thrive. When you do your home exercises, keep a water bottle handy and sip throughout.

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