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What to do when physical therapy doesn’t work for you

“He didn’t show me that I needed him…”

I’ll never forget this statement.

When I was in physical therapy school, one of our classmates was working with a PT. After a few weeks, someone asked her how the therapy was going. Her reply?

“He didn’t show me that I needed him. He offered no value to me.”

Maybe a little brutal, but very honest and really quite true. So what happened? Why did physical therapy not work for her? And why does this experience seem to happen to so many who go through therapy?

Why physical therapy does not work

The reasons many have failed previously with physical therapy vary, but here’s the most consistent pattern.

It all starts on the wrong track. 

The patient never receives a thoughtful or thorough exam. The therapist doesn’t get a great idea of what is causing the pain and the patient is never taught what is going on and why. Mostly because the therapist doesn’t know either.

It’s hard for therapists in a normal, busy clinic to do a thorough exam or to have the time to improve their exam and their skills. We know, we’ve been there.

The pain problem is usually chalked up to a strength or flexibility issue. The patient is given a list of stretches and banded exercises that they complete at therapy and repeat again at home.

The patient does this for several weeks. Best case scenario is clearly that they get better. Wonderful! But when they try to return to full activity they find the same problems come back. Again, that’s best case scenario.

If the patient is very active, a high-level runner, crossfit athlete, or chronic pickleballer, the therapist usually is at a loss. They put together some guesswork exercises and hope for the best.

Please tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m willing to say that fits almost everyone’s experience with physical therapy.

Well, I want to get better. What can I do?

You might be surprised by the number of people who come to us after already having failed with a different physical therapist.

We actually prefer these patients!

Because of their unsuccessful trial with physical therapy, these patients usually see right away how different their experience with us is going to be.

By the end of our first visit, we have listened to the patient’s whole story, worked through a detailed physical exam, and tested different treatments against their painful retests.

We’ve discussed the most likely diagnosis, using skeletal models and images for improved understanding. 

A prognosis has been given. That is our prediction for how long recovery will take and any factors that may impact that timeline.

We’ve introduced an initial home plan and prepared them for follow-up surveys during the next week that keep us up on how they’re doing while they’re away.

Our expectation is that each patient will have the best medical experience they’ve ever had. I do love to joke around, but this is no funny business. That’s our legitimate goal.

Whoever you go to for help should have similar goals and processes. The most helpful and expert clinicians demonstrate similar patterns, so you should look for them and expect such patterns from the clinician you choose.

If you’d like our help finding that kind of clinician, or you’d like to give us a try, use the links below to set up a free phone consultation with us. Give us the test to see if we can prove our value to you and help you get out of pain.

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