During a follow up session with an inquisitive high school runner, she asked several poignant questions and made statements that help illustrate the best aspects of being a physical therapist.
The first question was, “Do you know every muscle in the body and what they do.”
I thought for a second and responded, “I think so.” I thought a brief instant more. “Well yes, of course. I probably could be stumped, though, if push came to shove.”
Then I went on to explain that it is more complicated than knowing the muscle and its action (what joint/s it moves), because it really is relative to the body position at an instant in time and whether a foot, both feet, one or both hands are in contact with an immovable object, such as the ground. How one moves during his/her meaningful task is variable, and there may be one strategy to accomplish the task that is painful, but the best part for me as a physical therapist is figuring out how to help someone perform that task without pain.
She then asked, “So can you do physical therapy to yourself.”
I replied in a somewhat disappointed tone because this is commonly how physical therapy is viewed. “No, and here is why…”
I went on to explain that physical therapy is a profession, not something one ‘does.’ As a physical therapist, I have a large toolbox of ‘treatment’ options, and as a professional I have to decide what the best strategy (which tools) to employ in order to address my client/patient’s pain complaint or performance goals. The best part of that is problem solving and having the time to work one-on-one with an individual to address him/her as a unique person. It is a partnership, and someone opening up to allow me to share in a sliver of his/her life experience is extraordinary.
The last statement this young patient made pertained to her preventing pain and injury in the future, so she can continue to live an active lifestyle as she goes off to college and beyond. For me this is really what our profession needs to be about. Physical therapists have the opportunity to be ‘upstreamists’ in the realm of healthcare through educating our patient/clients about healthy movement unique to his/her experience.
This is why I do what I do.
-Erik Bies, DPT MS
Check out this awesome TED talk about “Upstreamists” in healthcare, and understand how you as a healthcare professional should be thinking, and for those who are clients or patients, what you should look for in your healthcare practitioner.