The Importance of Expectations and Communication

By: Dr. Laura Wenger, PT, OCS, FAAOMPT

As physical therapists, we are deeply invested in creating relationships with our patients not only as a side effect of the amount of time we are able to spend one-on-one with you but also to ensure your success in meeting your goals. So much of this relationship-development occurs on your first visit with us, where we do a deep dive into the history of the problem that is bringing you PT and getting a better understanding of who you are as a person and what kinds of factors may impact your rehabilitation both positively and negatively. Many professionals in PT and other healthcare fields are also interested in this topic, as there have been many research studies developed- especially in the past 20 years- aimed at understanding the relationship between expectations of both the patients and providers and a person’s ability to improve. 

One such research article was just published by some of my colleagues as part of their work in the Bellin Doctor of Science of Physical Therapy program, where the research team wanted to get a better qualitative understanding of the expectations that patients have before they come to PT.1 Overall there were five main themes that emerged in terms of the questions that patients expected to have answered when meeting their PT for the first time:1

  • “What is wrong with me?
  • “How long will it take me to feel better?“ 
  • “What can I do as the patient?“
  • “What can you (the physical therapist) do for the pain?”
  • “What is the expected outcome of physical therapy?”


The answers to these questions can be formulated after a thorough history and physical examination by the physical therapist to understand your specific condition and all potential contributing factors. And, the answer to these questions also may evolve over time, which is why we continued to focus attention and detail to your response to treatment and activity progression along the course of your rehabilitation, making the appropriate adjustments as needed. At Tomsic PT, we work to take the time to know you and your problem to help you reach your end goals. There may be additional questions or expectations that arise for you either before or during your course of PT, and it’s important to feel comfortable bringing these to your physical therapist so that we can best understand how to help you throughout the course of your treatment. 

  1. Subialka JA, Smith K, Signorino JA, Young JL, Rhon DI, Rentmeester C. What do patients referred to physical therapy for a musculoskeletal condition expect? A qualitative assessment. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 2022. 59;102543.