Dr. Cunningham and his team want you to get the most out of your physical therapy if it is prescribed. Dr. Cunningham is an expert sports medicine orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the treatment of the knee and shoulder. He cares a great deal about patient education as this is so important in order to have a good outcome.

Whether your injury is treated with or without surgery, physical therapy is a mainstay of treatment and we thought patients can benefit from information on how to get the most out of physical therapy.

Get Ready

Dr. Cunningham recommends intentional preparation. Take time to form a get-ready mindset. The result will be an accelerated, and optimized outcome.

Go For the Pros

Locate the best therapists for your treatment needs or ask us for recommendations. Expertise, experience and exceptional communication are the hallmarks of the top providers. These pros utilize an open, two-way communication style that is informative and comprehensive in detail. Patients know what to expect, from start to finish. Dr. Cunningham utilizes highly experienced physical therapy teams for his patients throughout Colorado and nationally.

Start-up Tools

Consider these practical steps to get the most out of upcoming physical therapy.

Logistics – Set the stage

  • Clear the schedule of any therapy appointment conflicts
  • Block out time and place for therapy homework
  • Plan a comfortable wardrobe and proper footwear

Mentality – Get your head in the game

  • Gather questions for the therapist if unsure how to proceed
  • Get a baseline understanding of the potential plan and timeline for the therapy
  • Set goals for the process
  • Inform the therapists of any medications or supplements you are taking
  • Ensure access to existing diagnostics
  • Record a complete chronology of the condition. See below.

Chronology – Tell the whole story

A physical therapist will rely on diagnostic evidence, communication with the medical team, and, most critically — the patient — to get up to speed. Be prepared with a clear chronology of what led to therapy, including:

  • Medical history
  • Description of initial event
  • Timeline of condition
  • Additional contributing events
  • Details of progression
  • Aggravating factors
  • What relieves symptoms
  • Change in condition over time
  • Changes in lifestyle, shoe type, activity level, etc.
  • Lifestyle modifications
  • No detail is too small

Attention to these get-ready basics will help optimize the physical therapy experience.


Once physical therapy begins, the patient is front and center. Although the therapist has the know-how, it is the patient who must provide the grit, determination and discipline to hit the milestones. For the the best outcomes, patients will:

Do the work

Show up ready to do the physical work; well rested, nourished and hydrated. Treat each session like the priority it is. Be ready to provide real time feedback on how you are doing. Honest transparency is key for your provider. For each subscribed movement and exercise, allow the therapist to provide as much explanation as necessary. Pay attention to the parameters of correct form, resistance, range and repetition.

This will change over time, so remain clear through each step of the evolution. Expect some discomfort and occasional flare-ups. Use these as an opportunity to stay the course, and gain more awareness of your body. Always check for understanding by repeating back information, allowing the therapist to fill in any gaps. This is critical in order to ensure the independent work at home is accurate. Remember to be patient. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Keep doing the work

After leaving the clinic, the homework begins. Commit to follow instructions for at-home exercises between clinic visits. This is the guarantee for quicker progress. Reject both too little and too much effort. Any missed exercise block diminishes the progress. Any push beyond the recommended parameters jeopardizes further improvements, and may result in a set-back. Add equipment to the home gear according to the provider instructions. Be consistent. Keep it just right. This is the way to optimal results.

Embrace the educational opportunity

“Information is power” is never more true than when it comes to health. A physical therapist has deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, what can go wrong, and how to prevent and correct it. Importantly, your therapist will also develop a deep understanding of you. Be curious. Take full advantage of this knowledge. Ultimately, patient results are less about a list of exercises, and more about gaining a deep understanding of the body, and what can be done at a life-syle level that supports long-term health

Focus on all of the information provided. Gain an understanding of your body in its current condition, and what to expect in the short and long term. Know the potential and limitations moving forward. Learn the roadmap of treatment and care required to maximize recovery. Remember to keep asking questions. No question is insignificant when it comes to gaining an understanding of the body and its health.


Commit. This bears repeating. Your commitment is the best means to get the most out of physical therapy. Commitment will sustain the patient through the process and beyond. Create personal motivators to sustain the commitment. Choose a long-term goal, and put an event on the calendar. Check with your therapist to determine what is realistic. Think of an activity you enjoy most, and make it your reward. It may be a return to a more rigorous trail, a new season of a favorite sport, or, registering for a competitive race. Choose something, and feel the boost in motivation.

Celebrate successes

In the same way a long-term goal is motivating, it is recommended that all the little successes along the way be celebrated. A positive feedback loop supports the healing process in several ways:

  • Sense of well-being – celebration creates a belief in oneself, confidence you are on the right path, peace of mind and happiness
  • Enhances recovery – recognition that the grit you used to get to each milestone is the same effort needed to complete the course
  • Allow others to share the progress – patient enthusiasm and the tangibles of celebrating can be shared with providers, family and friends, creating even more positive feedback
  • Rewarding yourself equals more commitment

Acknowledge that attending each appointment is a success. Reward yourself. Recognize that you are working hard through each session. Reward yourself. Pay attention to the improvements, no matter how small. Celebrate. Ask for a “report card” from your therapist, and recognize how far you have progressed. Bring confetti.

Develop the Long Game

Physical therapy is a brief season in one’s life. The long game is a healthy lifestyle.

Avoid future injury – Your injury prevention plan begins with listening to your body. Follow your therapist’s prevention instructions, avoiding some things, enhancing others. As you return to your active lifestyle, and all of your favorite activities, pay attention to even minor discomforts, and respond with gentle care. Often there is a delay in pain, so keep track of activity for a couple of days to help pinpoint a cause, if an issue does arise. Work on lowering the stress in your life.

Stay patient – As you adopt new levels of activity and intensity remember to take it slow and easy. Let your therapist provide you a pain or soreness scale within which to balance effort. Progress can be jeopardized by going too hard too soon. When uncertain, reach out and ask.

Build healthy habits – this is the perfect time to reevaluate health habits and make changes. Expand your therapy discipline to include aerobic fitness, strength training, flexibility and balance. Schedule it in. Adjust nutrition, hydration, sleep, activity and mental wellness hygiene to optimize overall health. Remember to maintain the activities and exercises that protect the hard work completed during physical therapy.

Request reauthorization – If an injury flares up, It is recommended to see your physical therapist, and medical team, as soon as possible. Request another authorization, if required. The therapist’s expertise, along with all of the new information you can provide, will be key to preventing a serious set-back.

Dr. Richard Cunningham can provide the level of diagnosis and treatment that will benefit you, including a course of physical therapy, when indicated. Contact him today to learn more: 970-569-3240.

Rediscover your inner athlete

Dr. Cunningham specializes in the treatment of knee, shoulder, and sports injuries.