Positive Belief Is Necessary for Physical Therapy Success - PT Effect

Positive Belief Is Necessary for Physical Therapy Success

Confidence and expectations of success contribute to better physical therapy outcomes
Read Time: 3 minutes
May 11, 2021

You’ve probably heard of the power of positive thinking. Starting with Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living, there have been many self-help books throughout the years that espouse positive thinking as a way to help us effectively deal with everyday problems.

To some, this may seem silly. How can positive thoughts help you get a job? How could they help with an illness? But when it comes to physical therapy, positive reinforcements shape our attitudes and behavior, which can yield beneficial results when recovering from pain or injury.

The idea may be simple but it is simultaneously powerful. If you believe your treatment will work, you will be more inclined to pay attention to your physical therapist, focus on the recommended exercises, and achieve favorable outcomes.

Physical therapist and patient smiling

Expect Success to Achieve Success

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia and the University of Hertfordshire, they found that of 1,000 participants, those who expected their physical therapy to work benefited much more from the physical therapy than those who didn’t. Anyone who expected to benefit from the physical therapy did benefit. Those who expected to not benefit didn’t.

Confidence Enabled Better Recovery

In the same study, researchers found that confidence in their ability to continue to perform certain activities helped participants to actually achieve them. This was true even in people who were in more pain than others. People who were in more pain had better recoveries with physical therapy than those who weren’t as confident, even if those with less confidence were in less pain.

Positive Belief Can Change Outcomes of Physical Therapy

The researchers found that in general, the outcome of physical therapy could be predicted by the patient’s condition in the very first appointment. Those in worse conditions, with higher pain levels and greater levels of disability, would not have as good of outcomes as those who began physical therapy in less pain and less disability. However, one thing changed their chances: positive belief.

Patients who had greater levels of positive belief, even if they had the greatest levels of disability and pain, had better outcomes with physical therapy than those who didn’t.

Physical Therapists Should Encourage Patients to Think Positively

On top of performing physical therapy on patients, physical therapists should also encourage their patients to think positively. They should help patients to understand that positive beliefs, confidence, and expectations that physical therapy will work ultimately play a major role in the success of their physical therapy and recovery.

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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The Physical Therapy Effect

1601 Kettner Blvd Suite 11
San Diego, CA 92101