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Setting Goals Is Key to Physical Therapy Success

If you’re recovering from injury, illness or surgery, a physical therapist can help you regain your strength, range of motion and functional mobility. Setting goals is one of the most important parts of your rehabilitation program. 

Before you begin physical therapy, give some thought to what activities are most important to you and what you want to accomplish by the end of your program. This can help you set goals to work toward returning to the activities that matter to you.

Rehab Roadmap


At your first appointment with a physical therapist, they’ll likely ask questions to assess your unique circumstances and discuss personal activity goals. You’ll work together to determine those goals and milestones along the way. At the end of your initial meeting, your physical therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan. 

Where Do You Want To Be?

Think of your rehab goals as a roadmap to help you reach where you’d like to be after you complete the program. Your goals should be attainable and realistic. Consider what you’d like to be able to do when you’re finished with physical therapy, like: 

●      Get dressed independently

●      Return to work

●      Take your children to the park

●      Walk without pain

●      Go back to long-distance running

●      Restore full mobility and strength of injured body part 

Short-term and long-term goals

The time frame for your goals can range from days to weeks to months, depending on:

  • The severity of your injury or condition

  • The goal you’ve set

  • Your current abilities

Short-term goals 

Your short-term goals are stepping stones. They provide an achievable target in a short period of time. They keep you motivated with small victories along the way that show you what you’re capable of and encourage you to keep going. 

Examples of short-term goals include: 

●      In two weeks, I will be able to get dressed by myself.

●      In 10 days, I will be able to walk from the bed to the bathroom unassisted. 

Long-term goals 

Long-term goals are set to help you understand what you can expect to achieve during rehabilitation, and where you can expect to be in your healing journey in several months or years. 

Examples of long-term goals include: 

●      Get back to gardening within six months.

●      Run 1 mile within a year.

●      Lift 15 pounds within nine months. 

How To Stay Motivated 

Though rehabilitation is a physical experience, it’s also mental. Setting and reaching short-term goals can help you stay motivated when PT is challenging or your long-term goals feel out of reach. 

And you’ll need to be patient. With injuries and surgeries, you lose your abilities a lot faster than it takes to get them back. Recovery takes time, and this can be frustrating. Celebrate every achievement you have along the way, no matter how big or small. 

As you go through your rehab program, you may realize that some of your goals are no longer important or are no longer realistic. So remember that your goals are not set in stone — they can be adjusted as you go, based on your progress and abilities.  

Do Your “Homework” 

For most people, much of the work of rehab is carried out at home. Your physical therapist helps lay the groundwork and provides you with information and knowledge as well as exercises to perform at home — both during your program and after.  

To meet your goals in the time frames you and your physical therapist set, keep up with your homework.


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