When you have a nagging pain, figuring out what you need to do to alleviate it can be frustrating. After all, ibuprofen can only work so far. And in your busy life, figuring out what you need to do to recover is not always easy.
Many times, you might think the route you have to take is to call an orthopedic surgeon. But is that overkill? An xray and an MRI are expensive next steps if nothing is broken or torn.
The truth is, stopping at an experienced physical therapist first could help determine whether you actually need to spend all that time in doctors’ offices.
But not all physical therapists are created equal. Knowing what should be involved in a physical therapy evaluation can help you find the right partner to help treat your problem, whether it’s a back ache, knee pain, or shoulder stiffness.
When you decide to make the call and schedule a Cleveland physical therapy appointment, here’s what you can expect from a thorough assessment.
The 5 Key Areas of A Cleveland PT Evaluation
First of all, you should know you can make an appointment with a physical therapist without a physician’s referral.
You want to come prepared to your appointment wearing comfortable clothes that you can move in, as well as be ready to share what kind of pain you’re feeling and the details of when the pain started and what makes it better or worse. You also want to bring a list of questions so you can better comprehend your problem and how to fix it.
You know you’re at the right place when your physical therapy evaluation includes these 5 important steps.
1. The Initial Discussion
Your physical therapy evaluation starts with a discussion — the “who, what, when, where, why, how” of your injury or pain points.
Then — and this is often missed — your physical therapist should ask you about your goals. Imagine a pain-free life: What do you want to do with it? That could be picking up your children or grandchildren, carrying a load of laundry up and down the stairs, running an ultramarathon, or lifting heavy weight. And the reason goals are important is that they will determine your recovery protocol.
When you’re in pain, you might think some of these goals aren’t even possible, but they are. You just need to know how to reach them, and your PT can help.
During this phase, your Cleveland PT will also look at what are known as modifiable vs. non-modifiable factors. You can’t change things like your bone structure. For instance, an MRI showing a herniated disk is non-modifiable, or a part of your body that you cannot change. Your PT will work around these factors to guide you toward achieving your goals.
2. How Flexible and Mobile Are You?
Next, your PT will look at your flexibility and mobility. How do your joints move up and down and left and right? Do you have full range of motion or is there tightness and restriction in the problem area?
Flexibility and mobility needs also change based on your sport. If you’re a sprinter, tight hamstrings can be OK, while if you’re a gymnast, you want flexible hamstrings. Or, if you’re trying to pick up your child off of the ground, but you can’t touch your toes without pain, you may strain your back trying to do so without the proper flexibility.
Once this part of the assessment is complete, your Cleveland PT will make a list of your skills and limitations and determine exercises or stretches you should be doing at a certain frequency to achieve your goals.
3. Strength Imbalances
The more balanced you are, strength-wise, the more bulletproof to pain and injury you can become.
During your physical therapy evaluation, your PT will assess your strength imbalances from left to right and front to back. Maybe you have an old surgery that limits your strength on one side or a repetitive job where you’re always lifting with your right arm or in a certain position. All these things can impact your functional movement patterns.
Correcting your strength imbalances can help you move better and decrease your risk of additional pain and strain.
4. Load vs. Capacity
Next, a Cleveland physical therapy assessment should look at your training, if that’s a part of your life on a daily basis. What kind of workouts do you do? What does your training look like? And how often and at what volume are you exercising?
Maybe you took some time off and then hit it hard in the gym five days in a row. We’ve all done that, and, unfortunately, while your intentions to get fit were good, that may have put a level of stress on your body that it wasn’t ready to handle. This volume may be something you have to work up to.
Or maybe you’ve had stress at work or your sleep has been off. Unfortunately, stress doesn’t discriminate. Any type of stress — whether it’s physical or mental — can impact the body in the same way.
This can be a trial-and-error phase as your PT gives you guidance on how to approach the coming weeks, depending on how you feel, how your body adapts, and your pain levels.
5. Homework Time
Once your PT has done the evaluation, he or she may do some work to help your specific problem, whether that’s a manipulation of the joints, body work, or even dry needling or chiropractic care.
Also, you should expect some homework. Typically, you’ll start with flexibility and mobility, which is your foundation for quality movement. Homework may also include drills to help fix a movement pattern, such as hinging properly or squatting without shifting to one side. Strength training can also help work on imbalances and weaknesses.
This structured plan will have progressions so you can continue to build a solid foundation to get back to doing the things you love.
An Active vs. Passive Approach
If you’ve ever walked into a physical therapist’s office and received a handout that looks like it’s given to everyone with your problem — whether it’s a stiff neck, tight hamstrings, or an achy back — that’s, unfortunately, a sign that you’re not getting a thorough and individualized evaluation that can lead you to long-lasting recovery.
Healing takes work. While your physical therapist hopes for a miraculous recovery for you, he or she isn’t a magician. Healing isn’t a quick fix; one chiropractic adjustment, one massage, or one injection won’t solve your problem. The reason? If your problem is a poor movement pattern, for example, your pain will return if you haven’t fixed it.
Your goal is to play with your kids or keep training without pain. We understand. We want that for you, too. And if your Cleveland PT has done his or her job right, they will empower and educate you on how to do this safely for the long term.
Ready to become pain-free and return to your sport or active lifestyle in Northeast Ohio? Get started today with a free phone consultation. We’ll review your options together so you can make the best choice for your physical therapy.