10 Min Read

What is SOAP Notes in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is an integral part of modern healthcare that aims to improve mobility, function, and quality of life for people with movement limitations due to accident, disease, or age. As with any medical practice, the appropriate documentation of patient evaluations, assessments, and treatments is critical for providing high-quality care and ensuring the greatest possible patient outcomes. It is also crucial for any potential future legal case and protects the patient, client, and the clinic. So what are the different sections of a SOAP note and what do physical therapists need to record to stay compliant?

SOAP Notes

The SOAP note is a typical way of recording patient treatment in physical therapy. Because of its success in enhancing the quality and completeness of patient recording, the SOAP note format has been extensively embraced in the healthcare business. It enables physical therapists to document their clinical reasoning and decision-making processes, allowing other healthcare providers to better comprehend the reasons behind a patient's treatment plan. 

Furthermore, SOAP notes provide a clear and comprehensive record of patient information that can be utilized to follow progress over time, monitor changes in the patient's health, and assess the efficacy of therapy treatments. Knowing the various elements of a physical therapy SOAP note is critical for any physical therapist because it promotes better communication, increases documentation quality, and improves patient outcomes. Let's delve deeper into the different sections of a physical therapy SOAP note, examining their roles and significance in ensuring the highest level of patient care.


The therapist documents the patient's self-reported symptoms, concerns, and medical history in the subjective section of a physical therapy SOAP note. The therapist may ask the patient open-ended questions in this section to gain insight into the patient's experience, such as pain level, location and type of pain, and any aggravating or relieving variables. The therapist should record the patient's medical history, including any previous injuries, surgeries, or medical conditions, and any medications the patient is taking. 

The subjective component of the SOAP note is critical because it provides critical contextual information that can help the therapist understand the patient's condition and identify potential underlying issues. It also helps the therapist establish rapport and trust with the patient, which can help improve therapy outcomes. Because it serves as the foundation for the rest of the SOAP note and treatment plan, the subjective section should be complete, accurate, and comprehensive. 


The objective portion of a physical therapy SOAP note is where the therapist documents quantifiable and observable findings from the patient's physical examination and evaluation. This portion should be factual, with no subjective interpretation or annotation by the therapist. During this part, the therapist may perform various tests and assessments to measure the patient's range of motion, strength, posture, gait, balance, and other physical characteristics. They may also take measurements of height, weight, and vital signs. In this part, the therapist should record the results of each test or assessment, providing objective data that can be used to track the patient's progress and measure the effectiveness of therapy activities. 

The objective portion of the SOAP note is crucial because it gives a baseline of the patient's physical health and assists the therapist in developing a treatment plan suited to the patient's requirements. It also allows the therapist to communicate successfully with other healthcare professionals engaged in the patient's care since objective data is quickly evaluated and understood.


In the Assessment section of a Physical Therapy SOAP note, the therapist summarizes and evaluates the subjective and objective data gathered during the patient's examination and assessment. Based on the information gathered in the subjective and objective parts, this component represents the therapist's professional assessment and clinical opinion of the patient's condition. The therapist should provide a brief and accurate review of the patient's current physical condition and identify any impairments, functional limitations, or disabilities that may affect the patient's ability to perform daily tasks. Based on the therapist's assessment of the patient's health, the therapist may offer a diagnosis or a list of possible diagnoses.

The assessment portion of the SOAP note is critical because it helps the therapist formulate an effective treatment plan tailored to the patient's individual needs. It also allows the therapist to communicate with other healthcare professionals involved in the patient's care, helping them to understand the rationale behind the treatment plan. It is important to emphasize that the assessment portion of the SOAP note should be based on objective findings and supported by evidence from the subjective and objective portions. The therapist must avoid making assumptions or judgments based on insufficient or inaccurate information.

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The plan section of a physical therapy SOAP note is where the therapist explains the treatment plan and goals for the patient based on the preceding parts' examination and diagnosis. The therapist should thoroughly review the treatment strategies, such as therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, and modalities. The therapist should also explain the treatments' frequency, duration, and severity, as well as any risks or contraindications. The SOAP note's plan section is critical because it acts as a road map for the therapist and the patient, defining the actions required to accomplish the intended results.

It also allows the therapist, the patient, and other healthcare professionals engaged in the patient's care to interact with one another. The therapist should regularly analyze and change the treatment plan depending on the patient's progress, making adjustments to ensure that the patient meets their goals. The plan section should be reviewed and modified regularly to reflect patient health changes or objectives.

the meticulous maintenance of proper SOAP notes in physical therapy offers a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond mere documentation. By recognizing and harnessing these advantages, physical therapists not only contribute to better patient outcomes but also uphold the highest standards of care in their profession.

Let's take a look.

Enhanced Patient Care

SOAP notes are the foundation of patient-centered care in physical therapy. They offer several avenues through which patient care can be significantly enhanced:

  • Personalized Treatment: Proper SOAP notes provide a detailed history of the patient's condition, including their subjective experiences and objective measurements. This wealth of information allows therapists to create highly individualized treatment plans considering patients' unique needs, goals, and preferences.
  • Progress Tracking: Over time, SOAP notes become a historical record of the patient's journey through physical therapy. They enable therapists to track the patient's progress, highlighting improvements or setbacks. This data-driven approach allows for the adjustment of treatment plans to optimize outcomes continually.
  • Holistic Care: By documenting the physical symptoms and the patient's subjective experiences, SOAP notes enable a more holistic approach to care. Therapists can address the physical aspects of a condition and its impact on the patient's daily life, mental well-being, and overall quality of life.
Improved Clinical Decision-Making

SOAP notes serve as a valuable tool for clinical decision-making, contributing to better patient outcomes:

  • Data-Driven Decisions: The objective section of SOAP notes contains quantifiable data from physical examinations, tests, and assessments. This data is crucial for making informed decisions regarding the patient's treatment plan. For instance, therapists can use a range of motion or strength measurements to adjust exercise regimens.
  • Trend Identification: SOAP notes help therapists identify trends or patterns in a patient's condition. For example, by comparing objective data over several sessions, therapists can determine whether a treatment has the desired effect or if modifications are needed.
  • Goal Achievement: Therapists can continuously assess progress toward treatment goals through SOAP notes. If goals are not being met, therapists can explore alternative approaches or intensify interventions, all based on the evidence contained within the notes.
Efficient Communication

Effective communication is essential in healthcare, especially when multiple providers are involved in a patient's care:

  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: SOAP notes facilitate seamless communication among healthcare providers. When physical therapists share comprehensive SOAP notes with physicians, nurses, or occupational therapists, it ensures that everyone involved in the patient's care is well-informed about the patient's history, current status, and treatment plan.
  • Patient Handoffs: In settings where patients may see multiple therapists or healthcare providers, SOAP notes ensure continuity of care during handoffs. New providers can quickly review the notes to understand the patient's condition and progress without relying solely on verbal handover.
Legal Protection

Legal considerations are a reality in healthcare, and thorough documentation can provide critical legal protection for both therapists and patients:

  • Demonstration of Standard of Care: In case of legal disputes or malpractice claims, SOAP notes indicate that therapists adhered to professional standards of care. They demonstrate that the therapist conducted comprehensive assessments, devised appropriate treatment plans, and rigorously monitored the patient's progress.
  • Informed Consent: SOAP notes also influence the informed consent process. They record the information shared with the patient about their condition, treatment options, risks, and benefits. This documentation helps establish that the patient made informed decisions about their care.

Physical therapy SOAP notes are more than simply a requirement for paperwork; they also play an essential part in providing good patient-centered treatment. As a physical therapist, you owe it to your patients to offer the finest possible treatment and achieve the most excellent possible outcomes. You may guarantee that your patients receive the tailored care required to enhance their function and quality of life by learning the various sections of a physical therapy SOAP note and capturing all relevant information.  Having accurate and comprehensive SOAP notes also makes it easier for other therapists in your clinic to take over patient care if you are unwell or your clinic runs a multi therapist approach.  

Finally SOAP notes also protect you and your clinic from legal issues. This should not be underestimated and incomplete or inaccurate SOAP notes can raise more questions than answers, while complete and accurate SOAP notes can protect you and help you sleep soundly every night! 

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