Physical Therapy: Common
Physical therapy has always been shrouded in mystery, and the truth is many people don’t really know what it is. Some think that physical therapists only stretch muscles, rehabilitate athletes, or use that electric stimulation machine. Others feel as though physiotherapy is an intense massage, or even just a way to avoid being stiff after a workout. As a physical therapist with many years of experience, I can honestly say that, despite all these conflicting ideas about physical therapy, one thing remains constant: most people believe we heal pain. And yes – we do heal pain, but
what most people don’t understand is that physical therapy is NOT only about healing pain… it
is about SO much more than that.
Most patients come to see me wanting nothing more than for the pain to be gone. And that’s something we can all understand – pain is absolutely terrible. But the most common misconception about physical therapy is that ALL physical therapists do is take away the patient’s pain. That just isn’t true.
Let me explain. If all a patient really wanted was for his lower back pain to be gone, or for her knee pain to disappear, then he/she would simply take a painkiller. And in my experience, many of the patients visiting my clinic have ALREADY done that. And the pain is STILL there when they first come to see us. So, getting rid of the pain isn’t the only issue the patient is facing. If pain relief is the only thing that’s required, the painkillers or the injection would
have worked… but they haven’t.
The unfortunate truth is that many people see pain as the problem, not the symptom. And it is this precise disconnect that defines what a physical therapist does: physical therapy finds the CAUSE, applies a whole body approach to heal the problem, thereby getting rid of the pain. The intensive physical therapy a person undergoes after a knee or hip surgery is NOT only so that he/she will not be in pain, but so that the root cause of the problem is healed, thereby promoting maintained health. Similar is true for someone suffering from lower back pain: physical therapy
doesn’t start by healing the pain, but rather tackles the root cause in order to eradicate pain permanently. So, in other words, though physical therapists love to get rid of pain, we do so in a way that treats pain as a symptom, not the problem.
Our goal is to provide lasting health, not temporary comfort. That’s why seeing a physical therapy involves a hands-on, thorough evaluation, and recommendations usually for multiple sessions. I see the same thing happening in my practice all too often, that is, after a session or two with a physical therapist the patients feels great – his/her pain has dissipated, and life is back to normal. The problem is, he/she then stops coming to physical before completing the recommended number of sessions, healing the root cause of the pain, and the pain returns.
It is this common scenario, too, which casts physical therapy under a cloud of misunderstanding. As we do not deal with the management of pain so much as the HEALING of the problem, patients often assume that if their pain is gone there is no need for further treatment. Or when pain returns, it is assumed the physical therapy didn’t work. The truth is, physical therapy isn’t a painkiller – and thank goodness for that. Though a session or two might ease the pain, it’s imperative to continue seeing a physical therapist for the suggested duration of your treatment in order to attain PERMANENT health and a pain free life. Unlike pain medicine, physical therapy is the most effective way of healing the CAUSE, and the happy truth is that, along the way, the pain will dissipate.
So, based on the above, here are some things that a physical therapist actually does:
Physical therapy is, of course, useful for eradicating pain. But the truth is, a common
misconception lies is precisely HOW we do that. We do not offer temporary solutions to a
permanent problem, rather we tackle the root cause of the problem so as to heal the
So, there you have it: the most common misconception about physical therapy, namely, that
physical therapist only treat pain. We do so much more than that, and with the proper, hands on,
unique treatment that physical therapy provides, a patient who does the required
sessions, and commits to the therapy prescription, will ultimately maintain a pain free,
active life. Stop the painkillers, stop the injections, and stop the visits to the physician:
physical therapy is by far the most effective way to achieve and MAINTAIN a pain free, active life.
We help busy professionals whose activities are limited by pain, get back to enjoying the things they love, even if other treatments have let them down.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist