How Long Physical Therapy Programs Take

How long physical therapy will take is a common question from many patients. Although the question is a simple one, it is complicated to answer. Remember, every person is different, and determining your overall prognosis and length of physical therapy depends on many factors. So how long does it take?

Disabled woman doing physical therapy with trainer
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Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this question. Each person’s rate of healing is different. It may take one person only three days to walk one hundred feet after knee surgery, however, a patient who had surgery on the same day may need five days to reach the same distance. This is due to the variation in pain perception, motivation, and healing rate each of us has.

Rather than setting a date to complete therapy by, set various goals that you would like to achieve during your rehabilitation program. Make this your focus, not time. Reward yourself for achieving these goals, regardless of the time taken to reach them. Your physical therapist can help you set these therapy goals and can help keep you on track.

How to Know When Physical Therapy Should Stop

So how do you know when you should stop therapy? Some things that may indicate that it is time to stop physical therapy may include:

  • Your progress has plateaued
  • Your condition is worsening
  • You have achieved all your goals
  • Your pain has gone
  • You have returned to your previous level of activity and functional mobility

When these things have occurred, you need to talk with your physical therapist to discuss discontinuing your rehab program. Your physical therapist can help you transition to your normal home exercise program to prevent future problems with your condition.

If you haven’t reached all of your rehab goals, do not worry. You should be able to work independently to keep pushing towards optimal health and mobility. Sometimes, your condition may be such that you may never return to your previous level of activity. When this happens, your physical therapist can give you strategies to modify your activity and to get back to maximum mobility.

Sometimes, unfortunately, physical therapy comes to an end because your insurance company will not continue paying for the skilled services of a physical therapist. When this happens, your physical therapist and the clinic you attend may be able to work with you to set up appropriate payment for the continuance of your physical therapy services. If you choose not to attend, work with your physical therapist to have an appropriate discharge plan so you can continue working on your rehab at home.

Patients should also advocate for themselves with their insurance company. You should contact your insurance company prior to attending therapy to understand your benefits and whether or not you can appeal any limits they may have.

One way to reduce the amount of time you spend in therapy is to have a regular home exercise program. Although the physical therapist works with you during therapy sessions, it is important for you to take an active role in one therapy program. Daily participation in a home exercise program is a major factor in how quickly you will recover.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.