As a Physical Therapist, patients ask me every day “When will I get better?”. This is a simple question with a complicated answer. Physical Therapy is not always a quick fix but instead often takes longer than people may be expecting in order to achieve the best results. Along with assisting tissue healing, Physical Therapy also aims in full recovery of function and future injury prevention, all of which take variable amounts of time.
When setting a treatment plan, your PT will consider several factors in determining a realistic prognosis for healing tissues. As a general physiologic principle, it takes at least 6 weeks to see measureable changes in muscle strength or flexibility in an optimal healing environment. Other factors specific to each patient will also contribute to variations in healing timeframes. These include:
- Personal Factors: Age, nutrition, activity level, co-morbidities, personal habits
- Injury Factors: The location of the injury, timing (is it acute or chronic), severity of the injury, is it post-surgical, how long until treatment started, types of tissues involved (bone, muscle, ligaments…), multiple injuries occurring together, previous injury
- Patient Factors: Has the patient been compliant with home exercise program, consistent with prescribe home program (icing or heat if needed, resting as advised), coming to physical therapy treatments regularly and without gaps of care
- Psychological Factors: Motivation, pain coping mechanisms, stress/anxiety levels, fear avoidance
- Environmental Factors: Work station set-up, running surfaces, sports equipment, mattress/pillow type, social support, assistive device availability
Physical Therapy goes far beyond healing an injury, taking it a step further in recovery by maximizing the patient’s function. This could mean returning to competitive sports for one patient or improving safety and independence around the home for another. Once tissues are healed, it takes time to transition strength, endurance, flexibility and movement patterns to achieving activity goals.
In addition to healing and function, a Physical Therapist will work with you in prevention of future occurrences. This involves looking at the entire person and movement pattern faults which may have contributed to the injury in the first place or are perpetuating symptoms from fully recovering. Our goal is to make lasting change in our patient’s lives and to decrease the risk of chronic or reoccurring issues. Addressing these properly may take time as it is likely it took a while to get to this point.
Tissue healing, functional recovery, and injury prevention are important aspects of your Physical Therapy treatment plan, all with variable timeframes. Consistency and commitment to the process pays off in achieving goals and long-term outcomes.