The Importance of Goal Setting & Communication in Physical Therapy

By MarieNelson on March 8th, 2019

The Importance of Goal Setting & Communication in Physical Therapy

When you kick off a new project at work, chances are you spend a fair amount of time setting and reviewing goals. These goals help you, and those you’ll be working with, to get a clear sense of what you’re looking to achieve and begin to map out a plan of attack. Along with specific goals, you also probably find it helpful to set some key milestones to ensure that you stay on task and to prevent your motivation from waning.

These same principles apply when going to physical therapy for an injury. Communicating what you hope to get out your therapy sessions can help your physical therapist to individualize the treatment plan and design an exercise program that aligns with your goals. The idea is to move from “I’m here because my knee hurts” to “I’d like my knee to feel better so I can get back to doing X, Y and Z.”

Let’s talk about a concrete example to illustrate goal-setting in action: A father of three children ruptures his Achilles tendon while playing a game of pickup basketball after work. When he lands in rehab, he explains to his physical therapist that he’s due to walk his oldest daughter down the aisle at her wedding in a few months. This gives the physical therapist a specific goal, and a timeline, to aim for. Of course, not every patient has a goal tied to such a momentous occasion. It can be as simple as carrying your groceries to your car unassisted or lifting your grandchild into a high chair. Either way, it’s important to have goals and to communicate them clearly to your physical therapist.

Your physical therapist wants you to get better but without the right guidance from you, he might default to following a checklist and design a program that unknowingly misses your goals. Only you know precisely what you want out of physical therapy. If you have a wrist injury and getting back to your knitting hobby is important to you, then be specific. Another patient could come in with the same injury but have completely different goals, so guide your physical therapist to help you achieve what’s most important.

Proper communication ensures success. This means you need to actively participate in your plan of care. Communication is a two way street. So the next time you’re at physical therapy, speak up.  Make sure that your physical therapist knows precisely why you’ve made the appointment, what you hope to get out of it and why it’s important to you. This information not only helps your physical therapist make important decisions about your care but also to think of new ways to keep you motivated during therapy.

If you find yourself making an appointment to see a physical therapist for a new injury or a nagging pain, make sure that you prepare in advance. Being prepared to answer this one simple question can help to ensure that rehab is a success: What brings you to physical therapy today? After all, you wouldn’t walk into a meeting at work without first giving some thought to the goals that you planned to share with your team, would you?

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