by Andrew Young, DPT, Physical Therapist
Despite previous experiences that might quickly come to mind, Physical Therapy is more than a combination of stretching, strengthening and hands on treatment.
Physical therapy is empowerment.
When someone is empowered, it means they are confident regarding their situation. This concept can and should apply across the healthcare spectrum and Physical Therapy is no exception. The way we see it, there are three aspects of Physical Therapy that lead to empowerment.
Listening is the first aspect of Physical Therapy leading to empowerment. Listening is more involved than simply hearing a description of symptoms. It includes learning who you are as a unique individual. It includes learning your likes, your dislikes, and what activities enrich your life. The importance of this point cannot be overstated. Often, the expectation of Physical Therapy is that you will be told to stop participating in activities that you love. When these activities are the ones providing joy or meaning to your life, this request can be downright depressing. Occasionally limiting painful activities is part of the healing process, but, whenever possible, the goal of Physical Therapy is to keep you active. It is our responsibility to identify strategies which allow you to keep participating in the activities you love. So breathe easy – you can keep moving!
The second aspect of Empowerment is Learning. There are many things to learn in Physical Therapy, most of which are unique to you and your situation. No individual, and therefore no individual ache or pain, is like any other. You are unique and your situation is unique. This is why step one -being heard- is so important. In Physical Therapy you will learn about the strength and resilience of the human body. You’ll learn that our bodies are made for movement. You will learn that pain, although frustrating, might be better described as “sensitivity” to certain movements, positions or activities. Most importantly, you will learn how to provide your body with the environment it needs to achieve your unique goals, and not anyone else’s.
The third aspect of Empowerment is Collaboration. Throughout your sessions, there will be collaboration between you and your Physical Therapist while designing a unique treatment plan. Muscles will not be stretched, and home exercise programs will not be assigned without your input. Your Physical Therapist will bring knowledge and experience to the table – but you will also have a say in the formation of a treatment strategy. Your input is invaluable because treatment plans are most effective when you believe in them.
In summary, a trip to your Physical Therapist can be described by the word empowerment because of the listening, learning and collaboration that will happen during your sessions. Such empowerment has the ability not only to improve your current quality of life, but also give you the tools to better manage future pain or movement limitations – without further reliance on the healthcare system to intervene. In Physical Therapy we don’t want to foster dependence on our services, but instead we want you to be more independent – and empowered – in the management of the aches and pains that life will inevitably throw your way.