This seems like a pretty simple questions right? If you have ever been to a physical therapist or are planning on going to one then logically an understanding of the service you are receiving is needed to fully benefit from the experience. So ask yourself, “do I know what Physical Therapy really is?’ This is a question I have been asking every single new patient that comes into my door for the past 12 months and after hundreds of answers, I have managed to gather a fairly good idea of what people’s understanding of what we do really is. Simply put, the only two answers I ever receive are either A: I don’t actually know or B: you’ll do some form of treatment to help my pain and then give me some exercises. Once in a blue moon, I will receive an answer with slightly more detail but generally speaking those are the only two answers I will get. So if you were thinking one of those two responses sounded about right then you are in good company.
Problem With Those answers
The problem with those answers is that if you live in the “A” camp and you are sitting in front of someone like me then either you are at the wrong appointment or you are feeling pretty overwhelmed with your current injury status and are going out on a limb with physical therapy because someone (generally a friend, family member or doctor) told you that you should go. If this is you then I am really glad you are taking the time to read this. If you are in the “ B” camp then you have likely done some cursory research on what physical therapy actually is or have been to a physical therapist before and received the above-mentioned strategies. The issue with this camp, as you will learn, is with a patient-centered and engaged physical therapist this is only the tip of the iceberg of what we really do. So if you are interested then why don’t I take a few minutes to describe what an experience with physical therapy should actually be.
People come into physical therapist because they are in pain. That is a generally well-understood reason to book an appointment with someone like me. What they don’t realize though is if my job was to uniquely treat pain then I am no better than your typical over the counter pain medication, anti-inflammatory injection or any other form of pain modulating strategy.
Granted, part of my job is definitely to help you become more comfortable but that is just the surface of my abilities. Simply put, I don’t treat pain I change lives. A pretty bold statement, I know, but that is genuinely the role of a physical therapist when they understand what their job really is. To elaborate, patients think they come into my office because they are in pain but what they are really here for is a plan of action to regain something they have lost. You see when the pain lingers longer than one would expect there are a myriad of physical, mental and social side effects to this that can really up end someone’s life.
Pain is generally a driving force for change but with the wrong understanding of what your body is telling you then, it can also be the biggest obstacle to action. For example; if an avid runner develops knee pain while they are running to the point where they can not participate in their running regime, not only do they have pain but they have also lost the ability to do the task that gives them joy.
So a physical therapist is supposed to listen to this and develop a plan to not only take away their pain but also successfully return that patient to the task they love. All too often have I encountered people who have seen physio in the past and their injury “ keeps coming back”. When I probe deeper into their story it quickly becomes apparent that their treatment plan was designed for pain but not for a durable return to activity.
Why We Use Physical Therapy
The only way to return to a task after an injury is to ultimately be able to practice the task that caused the injury with confidence and trust in their ability. If you are making progress you should celebrate the absence of pain but for a durable change, you must ask yourself, “ can I do what I used to?” If the answer is no or I don’t know then the work is not done. Simply put, there is a difference between feeling better and getting better and the former is defined by the absence of pain while the latter is defined by the realization of a functional and relevant goal and a good physical therapist understands this distinction.
So how can you tell if physical therapy is right for you? Ask yourself, “ Am I brave enough to walk to journey to a new and better me?” If the answer is yes then come see if you are a good fit for our team. Nothing gives us greater joy than to empower someone to embrace and achieve a new and better version of you.
See you soon!
Colin Beattie BKIN, MPT, CAFCI
Registered Physical Therapist