The amount of time that physical therapy (PT) takes depends on various factors. These can include the type of injury a person has, their overall health, how frequently they attend PT sessions, whether they perform exercises at home, and more.
PT studies often look at participants who undergo treatment for several weeks or months. However,
There is no specific amount of time that all people will spend in PT. Instead, a person should discuss treatment goals with their doctor, physical therapist (a doctor of physical therapy), or both. If a person has had an injury or health condition and is in the hospital, they may receive inpatient PT. After discharge, they may also attend outpatient PT sessions.
Read on to learn more about how long PT usually takes for different injuries and health conditions.
There is no standard length of time PT usually takes. Depending on a person’s injury or health condition, they may require sessions one or more times per week for several weeks or months in addition to an at-home exercise program.
However, some people need physical therapy for much longer.
For example, a 2018 systematic review of PT for chronic musculoskeletal pain looked at treatment programs lasting 12 weeks or longer. This may be standard for certain injuries and health conditions.
Before starting PT, a person should talk with a healthcare professional about the following:
- goals for treatment
- signs that PT is working
- expectations, such as whether and how often a person must do PT exercises at home
- the typical length of treatment
- factors that might change treatment length
Learn more about how PT can help here.
Back pain is widespread, and many people experience it at some point. It can occur for many reasons, including minor temporary injuries, strained muscles, herniated disks, osteoarthritis, and more serious injuries, such as broken bones.
Although back pain
There is no set time for PT for back pain — instead, a physical therapist will work with a person to set treatment goals, such as improving range of motion or strength.
Learn about the most likely causes of back pain here.
Like many other types of pain, neck pain can happen for many reasons. The cause of the pain and the person’s overall health may determine the length of time a person need physical therapy. Some people might need to return if chronic symptoms recur.
Many guides recommend an initial course of 6 weeks. For example, a
Learn about a stiff neck here.
The right type of PT for broken bones depends on the person’s health, the reason for the broken bone, and which bone a person has broken. They may need immediate PT to help regain mobility and long-term PT to improve strength and coordination.
Importantly, the study did not recommend a specific length of PT. The authors noted that PT aims to offer immediate intensive treatment until a person meets their goals.
Learn more about repairing broken bones here.
Herniated disks can cause sciatica, back pain, and more.
A 2020 study assessed the benefits of surgery versus conservative treatment, including PT. While the study period was 6 months, physical therapists determined the appropriate length of treatment for each person. Therefore, the duration varied.
The amount of time a person needs PT will depend on a person’s symptoms, age, overall health, and other factors.
Learn about some safe exercises for a herniated disk here.
The length of time a person needs PT for sciatica varies.
For example, in a 2020 study, researchers compared conservative treatment, including PT, to surgery. While the conservative treatment lasted 6 months, the physical therapist determined the actual time each person was in physical therapy.
Learn about stretches to help reduce sciatica pain.
As with other injuries, there is no length of time for PT that is appropriate for all knee injuries. For example, a minor sprain or strain will require less healing time than a knee replacement.
According to a 2019 paper on physical and exercise therapy for knee osteoarthritis, people should have a minimum of 12 twice-weekly sessions. A person may need to attend longer than this based on their results.
Learn more about surgery for an ACL injury here.
Sprained ankles often heal on their own, with or without PT. This can take anywhere from several weeks to several months, but it depends on the degree of the ankle sprain.
However, athletes and people with serious ankle sprains
Learn about some of the best exercises to treat a sprained ankle.
Regularly attending PT sessions is important for building progress when recovering from an injury or health condition.
Sometimes, a person will need to attend several times per week, but the frequency depends on the severity of the injury and treatment goals. The individual and therapist will decide the best frequency and duration while considering factors such as health insurance and whether the therapy is inpatient or outpatient.
In many cases, a person will not make progress if they attend PT only occasionally. People should seek clear guidance from their physical therapist about how frequently they should attend.
Learn whether Medicare covers PT here.
As with any other medical treatment, improved symptoms do not necessarily mean it is time to stop. If a person feels better and stops treatment too soon, their symptoms may return. It is important to discuss treatment goals and duration with a healthcare professional.
Some signs that it might be time to stop PT include the following:
- A person’s symptoms have been gone for several weeks.
- A person is not making progress or is getting worse.
- A person has achieved all of their treatment goals.
- A doctor or physical therapist recommends stopping PT.
- A therapist refers the individual for further interventions, such as surgery.
One of the main benefits of PT is that it offers individual, targeted treatment that can change based on results. Consequently, no single length of time in PT works for everyone, even among people with the same or similar injuries.
People pursuing PT should discuss treatment goals, ask for an estimate of treatment length, and continue to refine their treatment plan based on results.