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Gearing Up for Physical Therapy


Over the past several months I’ve met many new patients, each with their own challenges and circumstances. Over this span of time I’ve begun to observe which patients improve quicker, to a larger degree, and maintain their improvements between treatments and after graduating from therapy. A large part of the difference seems to be the approach each patient takes while attending therapy treatments.

When I approach a new patient, I see myself as a tour guide of sorts. As a tour guide, my job is to listen to each patient as they explain where they are with respect to their pain level, functional limitation, and ability to complete tasks which they were able to perform prior to injury. Bearing this in mind, it is up to us as a team to figure out what is important and what direction we need to take to safely arrive at our journey’s end. I’ve been on many of these “journeys” and have the frequent flier miles to prove it. But going through physical therapy truly is your journey. Metaphorically speaking, I am a tour guide who is familiar with the landscape over which your journey will occur.

Nobody ever made it to the top of Mount Everest without working hard and relying on a tour guide familiar with all the pitfalls that Everest presents. Success relies on hard work and a willingness to work together as a team. I can’t imagine preparing for an Everest summit only to arrive at base camp and proclaim, “It’s hopeless! I’ll never make it to the top!” Such statements needlessly drain energy from an already challenging journey. In fact these sentiments are known as self-fulfilling prophecies because they are predispositions to failure. The only remaining question is how failure will occur.

Dealing with pain and limitations in ability to complete activities throughout each day is unpleasant and inconvenient. The quickest, easiest means of getting past the limitations of today is to make recovering from injury or ailment a priority. A great question to ask at the start of each day is, “What can I do today to help myself toward a better tomorrow?” Some of the best suggestions are the easiest to implement on a daily basis. These include maintaining a positive mental attitude before, during, and after treatments, completing home exercises recommended by your therapist on a regular basis, and becoming more acutely aware of posture and body mechanics throughout the day.

With most things which are important in life you get out of it what you put into it. Through the years I’ve become fond of a saying which states, “Anything worth doing is worth over-doing”. The simple meaning behind this statement is give your best effort with every task you complete! Don’t just go through the motions. Complete each task and tackle every day as though it was on purpose. If participating in physical therapy is part of the treatment plan to help restore function and mobility then embrace the experience with a solid effort and expectations of a successful outcome.

As a child in grade school, the purpose and benefit of completing homework never resonated within me. At some point the light bulb turned on and I realized that school was easier the next day if I completed my homework the night before. Completing home exercises prescribed by the therapist have a similar effect. The purpose and intent is to address strength, flexibility, or mobility deficits which may be directly or indirectly limiting function. Besides, completing the prescribed exercises is an investment in yourself, and there is nothing better than that to speed the recovery process along.

I regularly mention to my patients that, of the 168 hours each week, I get to spend one to two of those hours specifically addressing their condition. But what about the other 166-167 hours? What the patient does when they are not in therapy truly matters. This is why an awareness of posture and body mechanics throughout the day will help to minimize pain and help facilitate the healing process.

The journey from illness and injury to health and vitality can meander like a lazy river at the local water park. Or it can be as straight and direct as a preachers sermon on Superbowl Sunday. The biggest difference is you, the patient and how you chose to approach your treatments. Play an active role in your therapy and your journey’s end will be here before you know it.

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