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How to Prepare for Physical Therapy: The Definitive Checklist

October 18th, 2021 | 6 min. read

How to Prepare for Physical Therapy: The Definitive Checklist
Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Licensed Physical Therapist PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Tuscaloosa

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If you’re anything like me, you enjoy checklists. Lists allow you to free up room in your brain and make sure that you have all of your ducks in a row, as the saying goes. Checking an item off one of your lists, especially your to-do lists, is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. You probably find yourself wishing you had a checklist or guide whenever you go to a new doctor or medical professional. It can be intimidating walking into a new practice unsure of whether you have all the correct information for the doctor. If you are starting a physical therapy journey, this intimidation may ring true for you as well. You may wonder if you wore the right clothes or have the paperwork filled out correctly, along with the usual nerves that come with meeting someone for the first time.


At EW Motion Therapy, our priority is to create a distinctive client experience, which begins prior to your first appointment. Our staff will make sure you have all the appropriate information, from insurance coverage to what to bring to your first appointment, to make your visit run as smoothly as possible. Our goal is to build a unique patient-therapist relationship, one that lasts even longer than your treatment. 


To alleviate some of your anxiety, we’ve developed a definitive checklist of everything you need to get done before your first physical therapy appointment. Once you check everything off of this list, you can walk into your first visit with confidence that you are fully prepared. 


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9 Steps To Follow Before Your First Physical Therapy Appointment

Here are the nine things you need to get done before your first physical therapy session. Completing these before you enter the clinic will alleviate confusion and stress leading up to your appointment and help the whole process run smoothly.


  1. Do some research about physical therapy
  2. Track symptoms for at least 3-4 days before
  3. Fill out your intake paperwork, including medications
  4. Bring your referral with you
  5. Schedule enough time for your appointment
  6. Get a good night’s sleep
  7. Wear comfortable clothing
  8. Eat a good meal
  9. Drink plenty of water 


Do some research 

Doing anything for the first time can be intimidating, and if your medical provider referred you to a physical therapist, you might have no idea what your appointments will be like. Researching something is always a great way to alleviate nerves. Look up some articles about what physical therapy is and how it works to know a bit of what you are getting yourself into. 


Track your symptoms 

It is beneficial to your therapist to track your symptoms, including pain or a lack of mobility, for at least three days before your first appointment, keeping notes of what hurts when, and how you are currently managing that pain. Your therapist will still conduct their initial evaluation to determine your treatment, but giving symptoms can help inform your therapist of what may work and what won't right off the bat.


Fill out your intake paperwork, including medications 

Most clinics will allow you to fill out your intake paperwork and medical history online before your appointment, and we recommend you do so. If you cannot fill it out beforehand or forget, try to arrive at least 20 minutes before your appointment to allow enough time. If you need assistance doing this, bring your chosen caregiver along to help, or ask one of the front desk staff. It is also helpful to bring a list of all your current medications. 


Bring your referral with you 

Your doctor may have sent your referral directly to the clinic, but if they gave it to you, please make sure to bring it. If you don’t have a referral, give the physical therapy clinic a call to see how they can assist you. Depending on your state or your insurance, you may not need one for the initial visit. 


Schedule enough time for your appointment

Life can become rushed sometimes, but you do not need to feel rushed during your physical therapy sessions. Make sure you allow plenty of time for your appointments, at least 90 minutes for your first session and at least 75 minutes for each session after. This way, you will get the greatest benefits out of your appointment possible. If you cannot commit this much time, speak with your therapist about how your sessions can be scheduled to best suit your needs. 


Get a good night’s sleep 

The night before your appointment, get as much rest as you can. Sleep has incredible benefits for the body, and a lack of it will negatively affect healing, how your body performs during your session, and how you recover after each visit. 


Wear comfortable clothing

When getting dressed for your session, wear clothing similar to what you would wear to the gym or just to be comfortable around the house. It’s also critical to make sure your clothes allow access to the specific area your therapist is working on. For example, if you are getting treatment after knee surgery, it is not recommended to wear tight yoga pants or leggings that are difficult to roll up. 


Eat a good meal 

During your recovery, a balanced diet is essential for healing and successful outcomes. Most patients know how to time their meals before/after exercise or strenuous activity. Make sure you eat appropriately to settle your stomach and provide fuel for your session. Your therapist can offer suggestions on how to manage nutrition as it relates to your visits.  


Drink plenty of water 

As my friends and I like to remind each other, hydrate or die-drate. Proper hydration throughout your time in physical therapy will aid in your healing process and give you the ability to work harder with your exercise. 


Is all this preparation worth it?

Congratulations! After checking every item off of this list, you are ready for a productive first session with your physical therapist. While every clinic has different requirements, our list should give you a general idea of what you need to prepare before your first appointment. This initial appointment is the first step in your physical therapy journey. There might be a lot of ups and downs along the way, but working toward your goals is worth the effort. In order to see results, you need to make sure you’re working with the right physical therapist. This guide will help you understand if you’re working with the best therapist for you during your initial appointment.


At EW Motion Therapy, we want your first visit not only to be informative but also an opportunity to make a connection. We will walk you through our entire process and collaborate with you on your plan and goals. If you are in the greater Birmingham area or Tuscaloosa and would like to schedule an evaluation with us, fill out our Request an Appointment form, and someone from our staff will contact you within 48 hours with your next steps. 


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