What Do You Wear to a Physical Therapy Appointment?

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If you are having difficulty with normal functional mobility after surgery, injury, or illness, then you may benefit from working with a physical therapist during your recovery. If you've been referred to physical therapy (PT), you likely have many questions about what to expect and how to prepare.

One common question people have before attending physical therapy is, "What should I wear to my physical therapy appointment?" Makes sense, right? You want to wear the right physical therapy outfit for your condition. That way, your appointments can go smoothly, and you can reach your therapy goals quickly.

If you are in the hospital, a physical therapist may come to your room during your recovery. What to wear to PT then simply is the same hospital gown you're already in. Your therapist will make sure you are appropriately covered up during your therapy sessions.

But what about outpatient therapy? Sometimes exercises are performed or modalities such as heat, cold, or electrical stimulation are applied. What clothing should you wear to your outpatient physical therapy sessions to allow for movement and other therapies?

Three men in business suits competing by running on a track

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For Your Upper Body (Neck, Shoulders, Arms, Back)

If you have an injury in the upper half of your body, like your neck, shoulders, arms, or back, then you need to wear clothing to your PT appointments that provides access and mobility to these areas. For neck pain, be sure you wear a T-shirt that allows your therapist to see your neck and upper back. Bring a hair tie if you have long hair.

If you have a shoulder injury, you should be prepared to remove your shirt so your therapist can examine your shoulders, upper back (including your shoulder blades), and arms. If you have breasts, you should wear a sports bra. (If you are uncomfortable removing your shirt, your therapist may be able to perform an examination if you wear a T-shirt with your shoulders exposed.)

For rehabbing an injury to your arm, wrist, or hand, be sure to wear a loose-fitting shirt with your arms exposed. Tight shirts, such as those made from Lycra, are not advisable since your therapist may not be able to effectively evaluate and treat your problem if you're wearing something tight.

If you have a back injury, be sure to wear a T-shirt, sports bra, and shorts or pants that have an elastic waistband. Your therapist may need to slightly lower your pants just a bit to visualize your lower spine or pelvis. (You should feel comfortable at all times. It is never appropriate for anyone to touch you in a way that you do not want.)

What Happens at Physical Therapy?

When you attend PT, your therapist will examine your movements. Exercises may be prescribed, and therapeutic modalities, like ice or heat, may be applied to your body. Wearing the right clothing can make your therapy experience a positive one.

For Your Lower Body (Hips, Legs, Knees)

If you have a lower extremity problem, then planning what to wear to physical therapy is essential. Your PT clothing should allow you to move freely and exercise while allowing your therapist to visualize and palpate (examine by touch) your back, hips, knees, and legs, if necessary.

If you have hip pain, then your therapist should be able to move and see your spine and both hips. Shorts are preferable, and wearing a pair with an elastic waistband may be necessary. Avoid wearing tight-fitting pants that don't allow for full movement.

For knee conditions, wearing shorts is important. While it may be in fashion to wear leggings, these may not roll up easily. You want to be sure your therapist can see and palpate your knees, thighs, and lower legs.

For Your Feet and Ankles

Problems like plantar fasciitis (inflammation across the bottom of your foot) or ankle sprains may get better with the skilled services of a physical therapist. If you have a foot or ankle injury, be sure to wear socks and shoes to your PT appointments. Your therapist may watch you walk in your shoes and in bare feet. (It is also a good idea to wear socks to absorb sweat and odor when attending physical therapy.)

For any lower extremity condition, you can expect to do some light or heavy exercising during your PT sessions. Wearing sneakers, or athletic shoes, is recommended. Avoid open-toed sandals or casual lightweight footwear like Crocs for your therapy sessions. Never wear high heels to your PT appointments.

What to Wear
  • Loose-fitting T-shirt

  • Sports bra

  • Hair tie

  • Shorts or loose pants with a waistband

  • Sneakers

What to Avoid
  • Turtleneck shirts

  • Necklaces

  • Tight-fitting long-sleeved shirts

  • Leggings

  • Sandals

Other Considerations

When preparing for your PT appointments, be sure to think about your specific condition. If your hip hurts, be prepared to expose your hip. If your neck hurts, make sure your therapist can see and touch your neck. Keep in mind that you will likely be exercising, so wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothing that allows you to move around freely.

If you are coming directly from work or from a formal event, ask the PT office staff if there is a changing room that you can use. It may also be a good idea to avoid wearing any dangling jewelry to your appointments. A necklace or bracelet may get in the way.

By doing a little bit of planning prior to your PT appointment, you can be sure to wear the right clothing for your rehabilitation. That way you can be comfortable and more able to focus on your recovery and getting back to your normal activity.

Summary

While clothing recommendations may vary a bit based on the type of physical therapy you are attending, wearing loose-fitting, flexible clothing and athletic shoes is generally a safe bet. If you are unsure if what you are planning to wear is appropriate, it is perfectly fine to call your physical therapy office and ask.

Keep in mind that you'll likely be exercising and may sweat. If you're leaving work and need to change, make sure your therapist's office has a place for you to do that.

A Word From Verywell

It is important that you feel comfortable and safe at your physical therapy appointments. Wearing practical, breathable clothing can help keep you physically comfortable during your session. Prioritize emotional comfort, too, by openly communicating with your physical therapist about your level of comfort with physical touch and undressing, as appropriate. This can ensure both of you that everyone's boundaries are being respected.

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