In my 5 years as a physical therapist, one of the biggest things I have noticed is how so many patients struggle with how long physical therapy can take. With the rise in technological advancement, our society has gotten accustomed to instant gratification. Even in healthcare we are use to simply taking a pill or getting an injection to quickly alleviate symptoms. Unfortunately, in most instances, physical therapy does not work this way. When we are dealing with an injury to the body and it takes time to heal. It is just how the human body is designed. It is important to remember that the role of physical therapy is to put the body in the best position possible to heal on its own. We can help the body heal more efficiently, correct things that are causing symptoms, or prevent things that may injure the body but the body heals on its own time. In addition, every person’s healing time is different depending on an array of factors. These include how long you have had your symptoms, the nature and severity of your injury, your age, and your general health just to name a few.
Understandably, pain is normally how most patients gage their progress with therapy. For most people, pain is the reason they seek out physical therapy in the first place so naturally they will assume if their pain is getting better then therapy is working and if the pain is not getting better than therapy is not working. Decreasing pain is always one of the main goals and is important to gage for progress but it is not always the best way to monitor progress and can create the wrong mindset for a patient. A better way to monitor progress is to look at your function, the way you move and the activities you can perform. How much more can you do now versus four weeks ago? A lot of times patients don’t even realize how much more they can do because they are still feeling pain and it gives them the impression that therapy isn’t working for them. I do my best to make sure all of my patients understand that pain can take time to get better and that the therapy process is a marathon, not a sprint. Your body is not a machine that we can simply change out parts to when something is broken. It is a garden. With proper tending and time it will gradually improve.
If you or someone you know has given up on therapy in the past due to continued pain and you remain limited in your daily life, I ask that you reconsider physical therapy with a different mindset. While we don’t always have control over someone’s pain, we can always make progress with keeping you moving and performing the activities of your daily life. No one should be bed ridden in their later years because they are too stiff or weak to get out of bed.