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What To Expect at a Physical Therapy Evaluation

Triangle Region / 11 May 2023

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by EmergeOrtho
What To Expect at a Physical Therapy Evaluation

Physical therapists (PTs) are skilled and trained experts who work with patients to improve their mobility, function, strength, and quality of life. They use exercises, stretching, hands-on therapy, and specific tools and technology to help patients move and feel better.

Before they can do all this, they have to evaluate symptoms and determine a cause. A PT assessment is a crucial first step in the process of healing and regaining function and mobility after an injury, surgery, or illness. If you have an upcoming PT appointment, here is what you can expect and how to prepare.

How To Get Ready for Your PT Evaluation

The more prepared you are for the initial appointment, the better your PT will be able to help you. They will need as much information as you can provide about your symptoms, daily functioning, mobility, physical activity levels, and more.

It might be helpful to keep a written record of your experiences so that the physical therapist can find important patterns you might not see. For instance, it helps to record when you experience pain and what kinds of activities or movements trigger or worsen it.

They may also ask about other health conditions and any medications you take, both over-the-counter and prescription. If you received a referral from an orthopedist to see a PT, bring that, as well.

Be prepared for movement during your initial evaluation for physical therapy. You should wear comfortable and loose clothing. Athletic wear is best if you have it.

A young female physical therapist evaluates a patient’s arm and shoulder.

Description of Symptoms

Once you arrive at the appointment and get any necessary paperwork completed, the PT will want to talk to you about your symptoms. Questions they are likely to ask include:

  • Where do you have pain and other symptoms?
  • When and how did the problem first begin?
  • Was there a specific event, like an accident, that triggered symptoms?
  • How severe and frequent are the symptoms?
  • How well can you perform daily functions and tasks?
  • What is your normal activity level and how have your symptoms changed this?
  • What kinds of things make the symptoms better or worse?

Be as honest and open as possible during this part of the evaluation. Physical therapists need the most accurate information to develop effective treatment plans.

Physical Assessment

Once the PT has gone through symptoms and asked you questions about why you are there, they will perform a physical assessment. They will ask you to move in certain ways and might also use their hands to manipulate your body. Some of the things they will be testing include:

  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Muscle function
  • Joint function
  • Mobility
  • Range of motion
  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Coordination
  • Gait
  • Functional movements
  • Body mechanics

They may apply their hands to the part of the body where you are experiencing symptoms to determine what kinds of movements or degree of pressure triggers pain. They will ask you to rate the degree of pain in different situations.

A PT might also perform assessments with a specific purpose. For instance, a functional capacity evaluation in physical therapy helps determine if an individual is able to work after an injury or qualifies for disability benefits. The tests performed during an initial evaluation vary depending on the patient’s needs.

The Treatment Plan

The initial assessment will take up most or all of your first appointment with a PT. They need this vital information to develop an individualized and effective treatment plan.

Your physical therapist will discuss with you what they learned from the evaluation, describe what they believe the issue is, and explain how treatment will help. Your physical therapy will really begin in your next session.

Treatment may involve exercises, physical manipulations, massage, joint mobilization, hot/cold therapy, splinting, posture corrections, taping, and more. It will also include homework that you should do between sessions to complete the therapy with the best results.

If you think you could benefit from a PT evaluation at EmergeOrtho—Triangle Region or have additional questions, call us at (919) 220-5255 or request an appointment online.

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