7 Things Never to Say to Your Physical Therapist

If you attend physical therapy, you probably have chatted a bit while working in the clinic. You most likely have noticed that your physical therapist is a pretty nice person, and you may feel like you can say just about anything to your physical therapist.

But there are a few things that you should not say to your physical therapist. Never. Ever. Why? Some things may irk your therapist, and some things may make your physical therapist push you a bit harder than you want to be pushed.

Bottom line: Some things are better left unsaid.


“You’re a Great Trainer”

Physical therapist helping woman do a walking exercise

 Mahatta Multimedia Pvt. Ltd. / Getty Images

Personal trainers are valuable members of any fitness team. They can help keep you motivated and can help you get in shape.

Your physical therapist is not a personal trainer. He or she is a licensed professional with years of schooling and tons of experience. Sometimes your therapist serves as a motivator, and occasionally your physical therapist may act a bit like a drill sergeant, but the level of healthcare education differs significantly between trainers and physical therapists.

Keep the personal training in the gym, and let your physical therapist handle the rehab.


“When Do I Get the Rub Down?”

Massage feels good. There are some studies that show that massage can be beneficial in the treatment of certain orthopedic conditions. Your physical therapist may use massage techniques to help decrease muscle pain and improve mobility.

But try not to call your massage a “rub down.” It sounds icky. And make sure that massage is not the only treatment you receive when you attend physical therapy.

Most evidence indicates that exercise and movement are the best ways to care for most painful conditions and limitations in functional mobility.

Massage is a passive treatment that does not require your active involvement.


“This Exercise Is Way Too Easy”

Your physical therapist will most likely prescribe specific exercises to help you move and feel better. Some exercises will be challenging, and some may be easy.

Sometimes the easy exercises and movements are meant to be that way. Your physical therapist is most likely having you perform simple movements so that they are done correctly. Plus, simple movements and exercises that are done repetitively help to ingrain the new movement patterns into your daily, functional life.

Sure, if all of your exercises are too easy and are not helping you get stronger or move better, you should speak to your physical therapist. He or she can make adjustments to your plan to ensure that your program is tailored exactly to your needs.


“My Pain Level Is a 15/10”

Just about everyone has been asked about their pain level at one point or another. The pain scale generally runs from zero to 10, with zero indicating no pain, and 10 indicating that you require the services of an emergency room healthcare provider to manage the pain.

A score of 15/10 indicates that you should have been to the emergency room hours ago. Your physical therapist understands your pain and that sometimes it may feel like your pain is controlling your life. But try to keep your reported pain level within the zero to 10 scale as instructed.


“Should I Take the Medicine My Healthcare Provider Prescribed”

If your healthcare provider has prescribed medicine for you to take, you should not ask your physical therapist if you should take the medicine. Your physical therapist did not prescribe the medicine, and he or she should not tell you if and when to take your medicine.

Your physical therapist may make some general suggestions about how your medication affects your rehabilitation, but any and all questions about prescription medication should be directed at your healthcare provider.

Bonus related question: “Should I have the injection that my practitioner recommends?” (Again, ask your healthcare provider about things like injections. Your PT can tell you what an injection does for your condition, but he or she can’t make your healthcare decisions for you.)


“Why Does My Shoulder Hurt?”

Your physical therapist is trained to examine your body and help decide what is causing your pain. Asking why your shoulder hurts is a valid question. In the clinic.

This question is a bit out of bounds if you ask it to your physical therapist at a dinner party, a barbecue, or at church. Most likely, your physical therapist will offer some possibilities as to why something hurts, but save the clinical questions for the clinic.

There your physical therapist can provide you with a sound clinical examination to help determine the cause of your musculoskeletal problems.


“Your Job Is Easy, All You Do Is Tell People What to Do”

While you are working hard in the clinic to regain range of motion or to strengthen your quadriceps muscle after an injury, your physical therapist may be watching your form or counting your repetitions. It may appear that your physical therapist is not really working that hard, but he or she is most likely hard at work making decisions about your care or thinking up ways to best keep you motivated during therapy.

Some physical therapists work in acute hospital settings, and they must work very hard to help patients transfer from a bed to a chair. This can require quite a bit of physical strength, especially with patients who are severely deconditioned.

Other physical therapists may not have the burden of heavy lifting but are still hard at work making decisions to help develop strategies to help you move and feel your best. And PTs always have a lot of work to do when the patients leave the clinic, documenting progress and communicating with healthcare providers about their patients’ progress.

A Word From Verywell

Being a physical therapist is a great job, and it can be an extremely rewarding career. When working with your PT, be sure to work hard and have fun. Just try to avoid saying something that may irk or bother your PT. Have fun.

1 Source
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  1. Boyd C, Crawford C, Paat CF, et al. The impact of massage therapy on function in pain populations—a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials: part III, surgical pain populations. Pain Med. 2016;17(9):1757-1772. doi:10.1093/pm/pnw101

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.