What Physical Therapy Is All About

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"I know that you are teaching me these exercises, but are you also going to do things to help put me back into alignment?"

"This is great, but can you teach me how I can do this for myself at home?"

These quotes were spoken by my last two patients of today.  They stand in contrast with each other in terms of the differing attitudes that people bring to the clinic each day. 

The latter patient is seeking help in figuring out the best strategies for rehabilitating her dislocated shoulder.  When I taught her the Turkish get up, she enthusiastically expressed how she saw its value in helping her regain stability in her shoulder.  She remarked that a self-administered soft tissue release technique nearly replicated the passive technique I had performed with her earlier.  This patient sought the tools to help herself.

 The former views herself as "broken" and is reliant on others to "fix" her.  She speaks with negative terms about her body "falling apart".  In fact, when I met her last week, she told me that she had been going to physical therapy on and off for the past 10 years for maintenance". This is not what physical therapy is all about!

Last year, I read somewhere (and I wish I could remember exactly where so that I can give proper credit) a simple definition of what physical therapy should be all about: "The restoration of thoughtless, painless movement."

I know there are much more elaborate and descriptive definitions of physical therapy, but to me, the above quote captures the essence of what I try to help my patients achieve every day.  I believe the most important aspect of my profession is empowering people to learn how to care for themselves through education.  I didn't always feel that way.  When I first graduated from physical therapy school in 2001, I thought I was on a mission to fix broken bodies.  But now I no longer think like that.  Physical therapists aren't healing anybody.  Time does that.  What we can do is teach you about the body, why it gets injured, how to provide the optimal environment for healing, and how to diminish risk of recurrence. 

If you find yourself in need of a physical therapist, try to find one who empowers you to take control of your own rehabilitation as much as possible.  Beware the health care practitioner who makes you feel dependent on them to feel better.  After all, you will only spend a fraction of your week in their presence.  It's all the hours outside of their clinic walls where properly guided intervention will take most effect.