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Ask the expert: Physical Therapy

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"We want to help you get back to doing the things you love and want to do!"

Kayla Conway, PT, DPT


Friends hiking

Ask the experts: Physical Therapy


Q. What is the overall goal of physical therapy?

A. The goal of physical therapy is to maintain and improve functional movement and to enhance quality of life. 

Q. Why should someone be motivated to participate in physical therapy?

A. "We want to make sure that when you leave the hospital, you get to go back to doing the things that you love to do." Engaging in physical therapy early on, during some of the hardest days, is important so that you can maintain your physical functioning so that you don't have to spend even longer in physical therapy sessions. 

Engaging in physical therapy is something that people have control over both in and outside the hospital. People can decide how hard they can work each day. Somedays you maybe more tired and have less energy, and other days you might have a lot of energy and can participate longer. This concept improves self-awareness and self-efficacy when performing daily activities as well. 

Q. What are some of the most common reasons for someone to work with a physical therapist?

A. There are many reasons why someone would work with a physical therapist, it really depends on their goals and medical history. Some of the reasons include:

  • Prolonged hospitalization
  • cancer-related fatigue
  • surgery/procedure
  • neuropathy
  • gross-motor delay
  • chronic pain
  • injury

Q. What are some questions people might ask themselves when deciding if they need physical therapy?

A. People should consider working with a physical therapist when they are physically having a hard time doing the things that they want to do. Or, if they find that the things they used to be able to do, start causing them to be exhausted, short of breath, or requiring significant recovery time. 

Q. What are some general recommendations you'd give someone in the hospital, either for the first time or for readmission?

A. Get out of bed everyday and build routines that promote physical movement, throughout the day. Standing for a bit at the sink when brushing your teeth, or standing while taking a shower. Both of these activities can be really challenging for some people, so practicing every day can help build endurance. 

Also, prioritize time to work with the physical therapist. Schedule your activity and rest time so you are awake and ready when the physical therapist gets to your room. 

Q. What activities or exercises should be avoided?

A. This is dependent on you as an individual. A physical therapist can help you design a routine that fits your needs and works towards your goals. Specific things to keep in mind would include: platelet levels, recent injury, skin integrity, balance and stability, recent surgery or procedure, and nutritional status. 

Q. How should I start including physical activity into my life?

A. Start with 5-10 minutes of aerobic exercise. Then build up everyday by 2-5 minutes if well tolerated. If you notice that you are exhausted after your activity and you are taking long naps or needing multiple days to recover, then ease-up on the activity by decreasing the length of time and your effort. 

A good way to think of it is to use your own 'perceived exertion' as a guide. Perceived exertion is just how hard you feel your body is working, which helps gauge what your heart rate is. Think of perceived exertion on a scale of 6-20 and aim for an effort between 10-14. Each person's rating will be different, so don't worry if your rating of '12' is different from someone else's. Work with your physical therapist on finding activities that are right for you. 

Q. What are a physical therapists biggest concerns when someone is going home?

A. My biggest concern is that they will let the tired take over and that will keep them in bed or on the couch and not moving around. As physical therapist we really want to see people engaging in the activities that they really love doing, and after leaving the hospital that will take intentional work and effort. 

I also worry that people won't get into rehabilitation care to continue to make progress. It's important to make sure people start working with their physical therapist and occupational therapist early on to make sure progress continues. 

Physical activity is an important element of life, especially during survivorship. Head to Physical Activity in the Wellbeing section to learn how to include physical activity into your life.

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