How Long Will You Need Physical Therapy?

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Physical therapy exercises

Everyone's physical therapy (PT) is a bit different. When you start PT, your therapist will create a treatment plan tailored to you. Together, you'll set goals for what you want to accomplish. That might be better movement or less pain. It might be regaining function. Maybe your goal is to prevent disability. How long it takes you to reach your goals depends on a lot of things.

One of the key factors is the condition you're using PT to treat. PT can help people with a wide variety of conditions and issues. Here's what PT treatment involves and how long it might last for some of the more common ones.

When You're in the Hospital

Many hospital patients get PT while they're still in the hospital. This includes people who are in the hospital because of:

  • Surgery

  • An injury

  • A stroke

  • An infected wound

  • A severe burn

  • A heart or lung condition

This PT takes place in the hospital. It may last for days or weeks, but, it ends when you leave. You might need ongoing PT, but that usually takes place somewhere else. You'll get a new physical therapist and a new treatment plan.

When You Have Bone or Muscle Issues

You may need PT for a short time while you recover from a bone or muscle injury. You also will need PT after orthopedic surgery. Examples include:

  • Back pain or back surgery. PT may last 4 to 6 weeks. You'll do exercises to increase flexibility and strengthen muscles that support your back. These will help protect your neck and back from future injury. You'll learn exercises to do at home 2 to 3 times a week. Your therapist may share posture tips, too.

  • Hip, knee or shoulder injury or surgery. PT may last 4 to 6 weeks. At first, the goal of your PT may be to regain movement. Then you may work on getting stronger and more flexible. You'll learn exercises you can do for the rest of your life to prevent future injury. Your therapist may suggest you do certain exercises at home 2 to 3 times a week.

  • Sprains and strains. PT may last just a few weeks. A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. They connect bones to bones. A strain is a stretch or tear of a tendon. Tendons connect muscle to bone. These are very common injuries. Doing movement and strengthening exercises in PT can help you get back to normal movement and activities. You also will need to practice the strengthening and stretching exercises on your own, not just at the therapist’s location.

When You Have a Lifelong Condition

If you have a lifelong (chronic) medical condition, you may benefit from lifelong PT. You might start with frequent sessions with a physical therapist and then do exercises at home. If your symptoms get worse, you can start meeting with the therapist again. Your therapist might also update your treatment plan.

Medical conditions helped by PT include:

  • Arthritis. PT can help people with either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. You may start with a weekly session. Then you may change to doing movement and strengthening exercises at home. You may need to return every few months to check in with your therapist.

  • Heart attack or heart surgery. PT is a normal part of what your doctor calls "cardiac rehabilitation." That's your recovery plan. Your PT might include aerobic exercise to build up the strength of your heart. A typical rehab program lasts about three months. But, you'll learn exercises and lifestyle changes you can do for the rest of your life to keep your heart as healthy as possible.

  • Stroke. PT starts within a few days after a stroke. At first, a therapist may help you move weak or paralyzed parts of your body. As you recover, your physical therapist can teach you techniques that make dressing and bathing easier. Most people who've had a stroke continue with some type of PT for many years. Strength and balance are often the focus.

Talk with your physical therapist about the specific goals of treatment and how long it may take to reach them. This will help you know what to expect.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. About Physical Therapist (PT) Careers. American Physical Therapy Association.

  2. Practice Areas. American Physical Therapy Association.

  3. Spine Conditioning Program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  4. Hip Conditioning Program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  5. Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

  6. Knee Conditioning Program. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

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  11. Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.