A Secret to Successful Physical Therapy

This is a post from Dr. Dustin Lee PT, DPT


A physical therapist should best be known as a master of the balancing act. There is a lot more that goes into patient care than one may expect.


From a patient perspective, speaking specifically about outpatient care, you come into the clinic for your physical therapy appointment. The physical therapist then will take you to a table, treatment room or gymnasium. Most likely, there will be some questions about life updates and your current reason for seeking treatment, and this will soon be followed by examination and treatment. You will be sent home with, or asked to perform, a certain exercise prescription that will help to maintain or further the status of your case outside of the appointment time.


From a physical therapist perspective, prior to seeing the patient, you have reviewed the pertinent history and documentation on your patient. You have made a specific plan for how to intervene and promote beneficial change in your patient’s care. You have spoken with the medical team that is involved with this patient’s care regarding factors such as medication, precautions, etc. that may impact care. You then greet the patient and begin your care. Prior to the patient leaving, you prescribe specific exercise, or important activity, that will help to maintain or further the status of the case outside of the appointment time.


Just in case you missed it: Physical therapists prescribe exercise just as physicians prescribe medication and treatment. In both cases, the intention is for the prescription to be executed by the patient because the clinician knows that the patient will benefit from said prescription.



The concept of adhering to an exercise prescription is important to understand because patients spend most hours out of direct contact with their physical therapist. For instance, my patients typically see me one to two hours per week, depending on their plan of care. That is, one to two hours out of 168 hours. A whopping .6-1.2% of their week is spent in direct contact with me. In that time, I have the privilege and responsibility to coordinate care, administer care and decide on the most effective, specific and individualized home exercise program that will provide the best opportunity for success.

So, what goes into a home exercise program you may ask? A lot. Here is a brief list:

  1. The patient’s goal(s)– Being able to climb many flights of stairs to attend your grandchild’s graduation from high school is just as important as running your 5th marathon or learning how to safely transfer into and out of a wheelchair. The type of exercise should match the anticipated goal of the patient.

  2. Who the patient is– A stay at home mother or father of four should be provided the best chance for success by prescr