Read the article from the Hearld's Sunday Health & Wellness 'What to Expect' feature, "Physical therapists push your body to recover."
Everett Clinic physical therapist, Dr. Jenna Lisenby contributed:
Headed to physical therapy? You should expect more than a rubbed back and an ice pack.
“We’re not here to massage them,” said Dr. Jenna Lisenby, a physical therapist at The Everett Clinic. “We’re here to help them help themselves.”
Physical therapists work on muscles and hand out exercises, but they aren’t personal trainers. They’re doctors who diagnose and assess with medical knowledge.
“That’s why we went to eight years of college,” Lisenby said.
They don’t prescribe medication. Instead, they use strength, coordination and endurance training to help your body fix itself.
From herniated discs to carpal tunnel syndrome, these doctors treat anyone struggling with muscle, tendon, ligament or joint pain. Whether you’re stiff from sitting all day or sore from swinging a tennis racket, a physical therapist can stretch and guide you back into shape.
Evaluations take up to an hour. That’s because the body is one big ecosystem.
“If a patient comes in with hip pain, not only am I going to be evaluating their hip and their pelvis, I’ll have them take off their shoes and socks,” Lisenby said. “I’ll look at their feet and all the way up their spine to look at how their shoulders and neck are positioned.”
Going in for a lower-body ailment? Bring tennis shoes in addition to your regular kicks. And pack some gym shorts, otherwise you’re stuck with disposable exam clothes.
“Our paper shorts are awfully cool and they’re cute,” Lisenby said facetiously. “But they’re not super comfortable.”
Have a list of questions and concerns ready, either written on paper or in your phone. But please, don’t use your phone otherwise during the appointment.
“That’s a little pet peeve of mine — when patients come in and their nose is in a phone,” Lisenby said. “It’s important to be present, not just physically there, but mentally and emotionally present.”
Another one of her pet peeves: patients who come in dreading pain.
“People joke that ‘PT’ stands for ‘personal torture,’” she said. “We do try to push their limits a little bit, but we are not there to cause them pain.”
Moving after after surgery isn’t always easy. Stretching can be uncomfortable. Ice and heat therapy can make you squirm.
“You’re not there to feel good, you’re there to feel better,” Lisenby said.
If you’re recovering from heart surgery, physical therapy improves endurance and energy levels. Stroke patients learn to return to their feet independently or use devices like canes and wheelchairs.
Other sessions are preventative. To reduce the risk of falls in older patients, physical therapists examine ankles, hips and walking patterns. “Less falls, less hospitalizations,” she said.
For certain surgeries, consider both pre- and post-operative therapy. When Lisenby’s stepfather was having a hip replacement, she sent him exercises to do before going under the knife. A week after surgery, he was walking without a cane.
Physical therapy is elective (Lisenby calls it “complementary”). You won’t die without it, but you might have more aches and pains.
Many insurance companies don’t require a primary care referral for physical therapy (The Everett Clinic does). But the treatment often falls into the specialist category, which can mean steep co-pays. If needed, arrange for fewer appointments and more work on your own time.
On average, physical therapists at The Everett Clinic see each patient a total of six to nine times. Cases of chronic pain might take a few months, while patients with acute pain, like shin splints, can jog out the door after a couple visits.
Physical therapy is a two-way street. You only get as much as you give.
“Come in ready to work,” Lisenby urged. Your recovery time depends not just on your condition, but on your commitment.