If you've suffered an injury or undergone major surgery, chances are good that your doctor will suggest physical therapy at some point during your recovery. Rehabilitation programs are incredibly useful tools – whether you need to reduce pain, build back muscle, or recover full range of motion, an individual physical therapy program can be designed to meet your specific needs. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of physical therapy while you have it.

Before Therapy Starts

Walk into your first session prepared. There are a lot of things that your therapist needs to know that will help them design the right rehabilitation program for you. Go into your first therapy appointment with your medical history, an outline of your basic diet, an outline of your activity level, your family history, and a list of your symptoms. Go into as much detail as possible. If your back hurts when you sit but not when you stand, don't just mention that your back hurts – explain when and where it causes you the most pain, whether the pain is sharp or throbbing, and where it falls between one and ten on the pain scale. 

It's also a good idea to walk in with a goal. Think about what you want out of physical therapy. Do you want to go back to work full time? Do you want to be able to compete in a sport or run a marathon? Do you just want to be able to perform routine daily living activities? Having a goal in mind will help your therapist formulate a plan to reach that goal. You may want to check out http://www.nrothandrehab.com for more information on how to formulate your rehabilitation goals.

While You're in Therapy

Although in the beginning you may only do exercises while you're in a therapy session, before long you should be doing exercises at home as well. If your therapist doesn't bring it up first, you should definitely ask what you should be doing at home to further your recovery. You don't want to overdo it, but chances are that you'll only be going to therapy a few times a week – doing your own therapy at home can speed your recovery.

What you don't want to do is go beyond what your therapist already has you doing. For example, if you're working with a walker in therapy, it's a great idea to purchase a walker to practice with at home as well. But until your therapist signs off on it, you shouldn't graduate yourself to a cane or unassisted walking. Wait until you and your therapist agree that you're ready for the next step.

After Therapy Ends

You won't be in a rehabilitation program forever, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't keep doing exercises yourself. Your condition could greatly improve from your own efforts. For instance, one study by Harvard Medical School showed that home-exercise greatly enhanced day-to-day functions for those that had finished PT for broken hips. Even though those in the study had little contact with their physical therapist, they still made progress. So, before your therapy ends, ask the therapist to give you some tips for safe follow-up exercises that you can do when you're no longer in rehabilitation.

Resolve not to become sedentary just because therapy has ended. Sitting around for too long can actually undo some or all of the progress you made while you were in your rehabilitation program. Schedule some safe and healthy physical activity every day. Much of what you'll get out of rehabilitation depends on your own attitude toward your recovery process. Try to stay optimistic and set realistic but challenging goals. You'll be on your way back to full health in no time.