Grace Mollohan PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
As physical therapists, we are often asked, “Why?” Why do we need to know about the medications our patients are taking? Why do we ask about medical history, and how does that relate to physical therapy? The answer is simple: Your physical therapist needs to know about your medical history because it impacts the plan for your treatment. Here are some of the top questions your physical therapist may ask for your first PT visit.
Some medications may have side effects that can limit your ability to perform some exercises or may impact your body’s ability to heal. Tell your therapist what medications you’re taking, and their effect on your body are essential before initiating any exercise program. This would help your therapist adapt your exercise plan to meet your body’s needs.
Co-morbidities; that’s the million-dollar medical word for “other medical problems.” Common conditions may include diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Similar to the reasons we need to know about medications you’re taking, other conditions may impact your body’s speed of healing or your ability to perform certain activities. Therapists are highly trained movement specialists that can adapt your exercise plan for just about any condition – we need to know about it!
This may seem obvious if you have just had surgery, and that is why you’re coming to see a PT. But many people don’t think that old surgeries are relevant to your new problem. And that may be true! However, you may have developed odd movement patterns or scar tissue that CAN be related to your current issue. So it’s always best to let your therapist know the details of past surgeries so we can connect the dots with you – if there are any connections to be made.
This is the area that probably makes most people uncomfortable. Your therapist may ask about your psychological history. Depression and anxiety are two prevalent diagnoses that can impact you physically too. Therapists need to know how you’re feeling emotionally and physically because this can also alter the course of your care. Feeling down is a common side effect of being in pain, but the reverse can also be true. Sometimes, your emotions manifest physically through pain or other bodily symptoms that you might not realize. By clueing us into your feelings, we can help you sort out why you’re hurting and help you learn more about pain and how to deal with it.
Outside of your mental state, a therapist may ask you questions about your bathroom habits: frequency, urgency, ability to “hold it” or “ability to go.” While these things may seem unrelated to a joint or muscle issue, they can tell us a great deal about what might be going on with your body. In some cases, it may even indicate a different issue altogether that may require consultation with another specialist. We promise we wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t necessary! And we also promise to be discrete. The last thing we want is to make you feel awkward 10 minutes after meeting you.
This is an area where we need a lot of details to determine what is going on and what might help. Some questions to expect:
When or how did your problem start?
What have you done for the problem so far that might help (or make it worse)?
Description of your symptoms – how it feels, where you feel it, how much it hurts.
This is more than “I want to get rid of the pain.” We probably already assume that most people don’t want to be in pain. But more than that, we want to know WHAT you want to be able to do that you’re currently struggling with. Do you enjoy golf and haven’t been able to play due to recent hip pain? Do you want to be able to run a half marathon in a few months? Maybe your goal is to be able to sleep without waking with a stiff neck. This helps us to know what is most important to you so that we can tailor your treatment plan, work toward your individual goals and keep things interesting for you.
You should expect to talk with your physical therapist for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes (sometimes more) at the start of your first visit. The better we understand you as a person, your health-related concerns, and the details of your history, the better we can identify the best treatment options for you. This can include a variety of exercises and hands-on techniques like joint mobilizations, soft-tissue work, or dry needling – to name a few.
Honestly answering the top questions your physical therapist may ask is an important part of your recovery process. Ultimately, our goal is always to get you to a point where you don’t need us anymore. That typically means you can take control of your health and get back to the things that you enjoy.
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