What can I expect during a physical therapy evaluation?

Physical therapy is used to maximize the efficiency of function in the human body. When our bodies are flexible and protected by strength, we are less vulnerable to injury. For most people with musculoskeletal problems, the initial physical therapy evaluation will focus primarily on the structural and biomechanical efficiency of the body. The examiner engages in a thorough evaluation assessing how the different spinal regions and the upper and the lower extremities are moving, looking for restrictions, poor quality of movements, compensations and areas of discomfort.

Although a person may be experiencing a problem in one or more specific regions of their body, the therapist takes a fairly holistic or 'whole body' approach to the assessment. This is because stresses or imbalances in one area of the body can have a significant effect on another area of the body. For example, shortening of the abdominal muscles can draw the rib cage down, forcing the head out of alignment with the rest of the body. This distortion can have a direct bearing on pain problems in the jaw, neck and back. The therapist, therefore, does a complete postural assessment, examining how efficiently your body opposes gravity. Usually the therapist analyses your posture with the aid of a plumbline and takes some photographs, so that you can see any significant postural imbalances that may be present.

In addition to the postural assessment, each patient receives a neurological screening. Palpation of the body is also conducted to evaluate pain, locate restrictions in the soft tissue and to assess arthrokinematics, or the quality of movement in the joints. At the end of the evaluation, the objective findings and the relationship of these findings to your presenting physical problems are discussed with you in detail. Out of the evaluation and subsequent discussion, a set of treatment goals and plan of care are devised. You can expect the entire physical therapy evaluation process to take approximately one hour.