What a PT Evaluation Should Be

An excellent physical therapy examination differs from typical examinations in many other medical settings. Here is your typical medical examination.

  • You start with waiting room 1 full of other patients because the doctor is running behind
  • Once you're in waiting room 2, sitting alone, in a gown, various practitioners who are not the doctor come in and do measures and a history
  • The history is often repeated several times
  • You finally see the doctor for maybe 5-10 minutes after waiting much longer
  • You get either a shot, pill, or option for surgery, not great options for someone with neuromusculoskeletal pain or problems
If they do not mention PT, ask them about it, ask them why they did not refer you. Research shows pills and rest are not the best way to treat pain in almost every area of the body. If you have been getting the same pill prescription or shots for months, with no change in your complaints, you should be evaluated by a PT.

A PT examination is one on one, with the PT, sometimes for up to an hour. PTs are active listeners and may take a history from you which may be 15-20 minutes or more. In contrast, studies show many other practitioners stop listening after 20-30 seconds, and have diagnosed you already in less than 1 minute. 

Your PT will ask you what makes your complaints worse, and what makes them better. They will rule in and out competing diagnoses. Depending on the PT you see, you may be put through several movements, positions, and tests to help determine your problem. If they ask you to fill out a questionnaire, there is a reason. These help us figure out how well you are doing in your daily activities. Tracking your score every 3-4 weeks often helps measure improvements. Each portion of our comprehensive physical exam is a part of your puzzle.

In the end, you should have a clear explanation of
  • why you have your complaints
  • what your options are
  • an education about the pluses and minuses of the treatments you may receive (informed consent)
  • what your prognosis is, or how long frequent and long treatment may be
  • a dedicated home/self care program that you can do to keep up with the treatments your physical therapy is performing in the clinic

If your PT evaluation does not have most of these things, or they are running in and out seeing multiple patients during your first visit, you may want to consider going to another clinic. It is not a good sign if your PT cannot spend 1 on 1 time with you for your first visit.
Physio Answers Founder


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