Ever wondered how your initial physical therapy session might go? Check out this article to discover the most common processes, tests, and measurement tools we use to make your initial assessment!
One of the first things you’ll do when starting physical therapy is complete a series of tests to determine your current physical condition. This is an important step in the beginning for several reasons:
- Your physical therapist (“PT”) will want to accurately gauge your abilities as a “baseline” for improvement
- Your PT will want to determine the best exercises to help you recover and reach your goals
- Your PT will want to continually track your progress throughout your treatment
Let’s talk about some of the most common PT tests you might expect to encounter.
What Is the “Sit and Stand Test”?
The “Sit and Stand Test“, is used to measure lower body strength. It’s commonly given to older adults, people with osteoarthritis, and sometimes patients with back or lower-body injuries that may impact mobility.
This test can be done with a straight-backed chair or folding chair placed against a wall. Your physical therapist (PT) will commonly time how quickly you can stand from a seated position, or how quickly you can stand, sit back down, and stand again five times. Or they may count how many times you can sit and stand in 30 seconds.
For the test, you’ll be asked to sit with your back touching the back of the chair, your arms crossed over your chest if possible, and both feet on the floor. You may be encouraged to have one foot slightly ahead of the other to help with stability.
If you need to use your arms to stand, you will lose points. If you need assistance from another person, this may also lower your score. But don’t worry – there’s no need for alarm at the idea of getting a low score.
The purpose of the scoring system is simply to understand what your current abilities are, so your PT can determine how to help you and what reasonable goals should be.
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Common goals set following a “Sit and Stand Test”
For example, if you need to use your arms to stand, your PT might prescribe exercises to help with lower body strength. They might assign you a goal of being able to stand without using your arms. In other cases, they may set a goal for you to be able to stand more quickly or more times in 30 seconds.
Goals set by the results of this test vary widely, of course, with no two individuals commonly receiving the exact same treatment plan, PT regiment, or goal setting objectives.
The Six Minute Walk Test (6MWT)
This is another simple measurement tool used to understand your exercise endurance and functional fitness. You will be asked to walk for six minutes and can go at a comfortable pace. You may use assistive devices like a cane and can stop and rest if needed.
If you’re unable to walk for the full six minutes, whatever time you manage will be used.
The 6MWT is often done at the beginning of treatment and repeated and regular intervals. Often exercises like biking or stair climbing are prescribed to improve endurance and walk time.
Regular walking is considered another excellent way to improve your time on this test.
The Functional Independence Measurement Test (FIM)
This test may be done in a physical therapy office, or it may be performed in a hospital after a patient has suffered a serious injury or illness. Unlike the 6MWT and Sit and Stand tests, it’s more complex and includes scoring based on 18 tasks.
The idea is to determine how well you can function in various everyday living situations, from feeding yourself to bathing, grooming, and using the restroom.
This allows the physical therapist to understand what you need help with, so they can choose a treatment plan and set of goals for your individual needs.
Other Measurement Tools
Other tests you might have include the Tinetti balance and gait evaluation, the Berg balance scale, the functional reach test, and the Oswestry low back pain disability questionnaire. Which of these you will need depends on the issues you’re seeking help with and your recent medical records.
In general, it’s important to remember that in many cases, patients improve their scores after spending some time in physical therapy. But it’s not just about improving a numerical score—this improvement may also help reduce your pain, improve your mobility, increase your independence, and allow you to do activities you weren’t able to do before.
The best thing you can do is follow your physical therapist’s instructions for at-home work, as this helps when you return for another in-person session.
MEET YOUR TEAM
Dr. Kyle Hunter, DPT.
Dr. Hunter has lead Premier Wellness Center’s Physical Therapy team for many years. He holds post-doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Florida international University and is passionate about helping you achieve your physiological goals and treatment recovery.
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