Do What Your Physical Therapist Recommends

I’m going to get on my physical therapist soap box for this post and talk about why it’s important to comply with what your physical therapist tells you to do.  I work with patients of all ages and activity levels and it always amazes me how many people come to physical therapy for help with a certain problem, but don’t think they have to actually do anything about it.  They think I’m going to wave some sort of magic wand and fix their problems without them having to invest any energy into helping themselves.  This applies to sedentary individuals and athletes alike.

The only people that seem to avoid this category are the older folks of my grandparent’s generation that had to work hard for everything they had.  Unfortunately, that excellent work ethic seems to be dying along with the people of that generation.

Here’s the thing…if you’re not going to go home and do anything I ask you to do that I think will help you, you’re not likely to get better and you’re wasting my time, your time, and taking up space on the schedule from someone that might want to help themselves.  Sure, there are the people that will just feel better with time, but who knows how much time that will be and physical therapy might be giving them ways to help themselves in the future or to prevent the injury from returning.  Too many people just aren’t invested in their own health.

An Example Of My Grandparent’s Generation

Last year our sports medicine physician referred an 85 year old female golfer to me.  Athletes can be any age.  Anyway, this woman was having severe low back pain and pain radiating down one of her legs.  Her complaint was that she couldn’t golf.  She lived along a golf course and told me that she golfed 18 holes five times a week…on foot!  In addition to this she also bowled four times a week and participated in Yoga.  At this point I was already very impressed that this 85 year old lady was this active.

All I wanted to do was help her get back to her activities.  Right up front, she made it very clear that she wasn’t interested in the usual physical therapy prescription of two times a week for however many weeks.  All she wanted was for me to tell her what she needed to do at home to get better and she promised she would do it.

So, I gave her some exercises that I thought would help and gave her only one follow up appointment for a couple weeks out to make sure things were going in the right direction.  When she came back for her appointment, she told me that she almost cancelled, but then she realized that I might give her more things she could do at home so she had better show up.

I asked her how she was feeling and she told me her pain was gone and she was back to golfing and walking the course and that the exercises I gave her were very helpful.  So I gave her a few more things she could do at home, knowing that she would definitely do them, and told her to call me if she had any problems.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t need to see her again.  I never heard from her, so I assume she had a fantastic golf season last year.

The Opposite End Of The Spectrum

Unfortunately, I have too many of these stories.  One of the biggest problems I have is with young athletes.  They just don’t want to have to do anything that they consider work.  They don’t want to do their home work, they don’t want to clean their room, and they don’t want to do their physical therapy exercises.  The ones that I can convince to do something usually have a good outcome and return to their sport fairly quickly.  The athletes that don’t do what I ask them end up missing all kinds of time from their sport because every time they try to get back, they just flare their injury back up again.

The other problem I see in this population is what we lovingly refer to as “repeat offenders” or “frequent flyers.”  They’re the people that keep coming back to physical therapy for the same injury over and over again.  Let’s say you began having knee pain while you were playing soccer and we were able to make it go away by doing certain exercises.  I tell all my patients when I discharge them that they should keep doing the exercises a few times a week just to maintain the strength they have developed.  They all say that they will and then they don’t.  Then, they’re back in the office the following soccer season because their knee hurts again.

Just because something got better doesn’t mean it won’t come back.  There’s a reason why professional and college athletes are on a strength and conditioning program in addition to practicing and playing games.  It helps keep them strong and healthy and helps to prevent future injuries.  OK, I’m done complaining now.  I just hope this helps you understand why it’s important to follow the advice of your physical therapist.  They don’t issue us magic wands with our degree.

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