By Doctor of Physical Therapy, Sam Imholte
I’ve been around the profession of physical therapy for much of my life due to sports, regular “kids being kids” injuries, high school and college friends looking to improve their performance, family members undergoing orthopedic surgeries, and now as a licensed physical therapist. Along the way, I’ve heard my fair share of stereotypes and misconceptions, so I wanted to shed some light on a few of them.
Myth: “I’m not in pain, so a physical therapist can’t help me”.
Fact: There are many reasons to seek out your local physical therapist, and pain is only one symptom that we can treat. Physical therapy covers a broad spectrum of conditions, disorders and even generalized weakness. In some cases, pain may be absent, but physical therapists can assist with dizziness, abnormal swelling, poor balance, stiffness in joints or restricted motion, decreased endurance, and bowel and bladder concerns. They can even assist you with preventative treatment!
Myth: “Physical therapy is painful”.
Fact: Physical therapists do not aim toward painful treatments as the goal is to get patients back to their normal lives. Keep in mind that exercises can be uncomfortable because your body is not used to the range of motion that you are now reaching. In addition, you may also be deconditioned. Think of the soreness that you feel after raking leaves or shoveling snow for the first time. It is very normal to feel discomfort, but your body has the capacity to adapt.
Myth: “Physical therapists will make me stop the activities I like doing”.
Fact: Physical therapists love the benefits of exercise and activity, and we certainly don’t want you to stop the things that you love! There are instances that require a brief decrease in activity that may last for a few days if the injury just occurred so that the tissues can heal appropriately. More likely, however, your physical therapist is going to work with you to modify tasks so you can continue the hobbies, activities and sports you enjoy doing. Plus, there are many other alternatives to exercises that we do consistently. For example, if you love to run an alternative for a day or two may be swimming or biking. It’s always good to partake in a variety of exercises to prevent injuries and learn something new!
Myth: “My doctor and chiropractor gave me exercises already. I don’t need physical therapy”.
Fact: Other providers can hand out generic exercises, but the exercises that were given to you may not be tailored to your needs and, in some cases, have the potential to make things worse if not performed correctly. I think we can all agree that “one size fits all” clothing never looks good or feels good on us, so why would a “one size fits all” exercise program? A physical therapist will assess and evaluate your specific needs and build a program that is individualized to you. Physical therapists are trained and are the experts in the movement system, so you are likely to see results faster and with less discomfort. Not only that, but physical therapists use many additional interventions to get you to your goals such as education, manual therapy or “hands on”, modalities including ultrasound, heat, ice and so much more.
Myth: “I’ve graduated from physical therapy so I’m cured!”
Fact: Many physical therapists will recommend an ongoing home exercise program after discharge for a maintenance phase. This is because we all can benefit from ongoing activity to prevent an injury or exacerbation of symptoms, but the reality of things is that the human body is unpredictable and symptoms may return. Genetics, poor lifting techniques, repetitive tasks and lifestyles, a “weekend warrior” incident, the stress of your work life or family life, and the list goes on for reasons that symptoms may return.
I always like to give the example of going to the dentist. After a cleaning, your dentist will usually recommend continued brushing and flossing right? Generally, if you remain strong with your brushing and flossing your next appointment runs smooth and cavity free. However, there may be instances that you are faithful with the recommendations and you get a cavity. The same goes for our muscles, nerves, ligaments, bones and other movement systems! If you do have to come back don’t think about your new bout of physical therapy as a “bad thing”. Think of it as fine tuning something you have already started. And if you have been compliant with your program, more than likely you will be on your road to recovery even faster than before! After reading and learning a little more about physical therapy, if you think you could benefit from it, please don’t hesitate to request an appointment!