In praise of physical therapy

I’ve had back problems for years. I’ve seen chiropractors, acupuncturists and had all sorts of energy work. Somehow my inclination to use alternative treatments caused me to overlook physical therapists (PTs). Recently, when two friends with chronic back problems both said “what helped me the most was my physical therapist”, it really struck me. I had an evaluation with a physiatrist who couldn’t be sure about the cause of my current pain and stated “the back is a mystery”. When he offered to refer me to a physical therapist, I was eager to give that a try.

I came away from my first visit with the physical therapist (Dawn) with a clearer understanding of what was going on with my back, and most importantly, what to do about it than I’d ever had. I’d picked up bits and pieces of information here and there in the past and understood quite a lot about the spine, nerves, muscles, etc. I knew about the benefits of stretching, and stretching had made a big difference for me. But the session with Dawn made everything fall into place.

I’d had various evaluations before, but Dawn’s seemed more comprehensive. She seemed to hone it on exactly what was happening with my back. She evaluated areas of weakness, muscles that needed stretching and others that needed strengthening. Above all, she communicated what she found in such clear terms and gave me stretches and exercises that are very specific to my back and spine (which has a mild scoliosis). 

Even though I’ve had an understanding of proper body mechanics and posture in the past, Dawn was able to help me experience it in my own body. She helped me to feel in no uncertain terms what “neutral” is for my spine (with the lumbar area neither too concave or too flexed). She watched me do every stretch and exercise making sure I was doing it properly.

I walked out of the session feeling that I was given what I needed in terms of understanding the situation with my back and a clear plan of action to follow. Because Dawn explained everything so clearly and her instructions made such perfect sense as remedies for my problem, I’ve been highly motivated to follow them.

Finally, what made the session with Dawn so valuable is that is was completely geared to my own self-care. Although physical therapists do provide treatments through manipulation and other means, Dawn’s focus was to show me what I needed to do to get stronger. I’ve long ago become disillusioned with repeated trips to practitioners like chiropractors who would make an adjustment which would then go out and required re-adjustment a short time later. The most valuable thing a practitioner can give us is knowledge of how to take care of ourselves. 

Of course, only time will tell what impact this will have for me. The most important ingredient in achieving a healthier back will be my follow through, and this is true of any healing program. It’s our own self-care that brings success. 

When I’ve had a kind of “breakthrough” session like this, I always have to ask the question as to whether it happened because the practitioner had the right training and skills or whether I was simply ready to more forward. Certainly the many experiences of the past and what I’d learned from them, as well as various ways in which I’ve grown, created a readiness to take a leap forward. Perhaps some other kind of practitioner could have done it for me. But given the experience of my friends with PTs and my experience with Dawn, I’d encourage anyone with back (or knee or neck) problems to give physical therapy a try.


In praise of physical therapy — 2 Comments

  1. To my understanding (i am not a healer), this sort of physical therapy is another form of energy therapy, since physical movement is a way to channel energy and distribute it skillfully, isn’t it? You are “luck” you’ve found someone who could clearly understand and explain your back. For my low back pain, I underwent many physiologic training and practiced daily the prescribed exercises for several months, as well as specific yoga movements. I feel it is beneficial, but sometimes it just increases the pain, and overall the problems remains. Also, the physiologists I have attended still couldn’t not explain why sometimes I walk bent like a 90 old lady although I am only 42.

  2. wakindra, everything is energy and therefore everything we do involves our energy system.

    Sometimes we need to address the emotional, not just physical, aspects of our pain. The healing journey can involve many different steps along the way!