Physical Therapy

3 Ways to Handle Your Patients’ Misbeliefs about Physical Therapy

As therapists, you’ve heard it all from your patients, “Oh I don’t think physical therapy will help me,” or “Well I read on the internet that…” and more often than not, your patients may have false beliefs about their injuries and the treatment you provide.

You may even hear a story from a patient every now and then that is just plain outrageous. In this article, a woman had the misbelief that she developed arthritis in her legs because she put on her jeans before they were fully dry when she was younger. This woman’s grandmother had told her this would happen when she was younger, so when she was diagnosed as an adult with arthritis in her legs, she blamed it on that. After all, don’t we all trust our grandmothers are right about everything?

As a trained expert in physical therapy, it’s your responsibility to hear these patients out and do what you can to educate them. Most importantly, you need to motivate them to do the right things for their health— and sometimes these preconceived notions can get in the way of that.

1. Listen, and uncover the truth.

Listen to your patients’ story. If your patient doesn’t seem motivated in their care or isn’t completing at-home exercises, find out why. Perhaps they don’t think the treatment is working, or maybe a family member told them to try something different.

Hear your patients’ out on what exactly they think and why they think that. Did they read it online, or are they not experiencing the results they expected? You may discover that a patient you’re speaking with values proven research and facts, or values the opinions of their loved ones. This will reveal how you should proceed to steer the patient in the right direction.

2. Build Trust

Building trust with your patients is extremely important in order to guide them effectively through the course of care. The more you listen and show respect towards your patients’ feelings, beliefs and experiences, the more they will trust you as a caring provider.

Show your patients your expertise and skill, and explain the reason for everything you prescribe for your patients. Just make sure you do so in language that is easy for everyone to understand. If your patients understand that you are the expert, and they know why the treatment you provide will heal them, they will be more receptive.

3. Teach, Don’t Just Tell.

After listening to your patients carefully and building trust, it’s time to educate your patients. You should know at this point what your patient responds to and how he/she will digest the information you provide.

Don’t immediately tell your patient he/she is wrong, just urge him/her to change their ways in order to see the desired results. When your patient trusts you and is open to your expertise, bring the facts and research to back up your suggestions. If any questions arise, answer them clearly and concisely. The more they know, the more they will believe in treatment with you.

For following appointments, go over what you said in the previous session, and educate further if needed.


Patients can often hold strong beliefs about physical therapy and their health, and it can often be difficult to change those beliefs. However, if you’re patient, compassionate and persistent, you will be able to break through that barrier and keep your patients on the path to wellness.

For examples on how to best execute these steps in communicating with your patients, check out this helpful article.

Keeping your patients happy and engaged is the key to retention and better outcomes.


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