Do You Have A Physical Therapist?
Written by: Matt Schildknecht PT, DPT
Raise your hand if you have your own, personal physical therapist, who knows you and your musculoskeletal history. If both your arms are still at your sides, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most of us have our own pediatrician, family physician, dentist, orthodontist, dermatologist, etc. These clinical professionals know us by name and know our pertinent medial history. And yet, none of these professionals are skilled at assessing the one thing we all do every day…..MOVE! These professionals are essential to healthy physical growth and development, but they are not movement specialists like a physical therapist. So, why should YOU have YOUR own physical therapist?
Let’s first define who a physical therapist is and what he/she does? The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines a physical therapist as a “highly educated, licensed healthcare professional who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility, in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term prescription medications and their side effects.” More simply put, a physical therapist is a movement specialist. A physical therapist is a doctorate level clinician who specializes in examining, understanding, and correcting movement. Physical therapists consider the entire body, from head to toe, when assessing movement. They consider things like strength, muscular balance, flexibility, joint mobility, and coordination, and how each of these factors effect movement. Then, they develop a plan to ensure maximum efficiency and quality of any movement pattern, from the most basic getting up and down from a chair, to the more complex motions of throwing, swinging a golf club, and even gymnastics.
But why is movement so important? I mean, it seems pretty basic, right? We do it from the day we are born, and we typically do it without much thought. But, it’s not that simple. Our health and quality of life rely on movement. Most of the chronic pain we experience is due to repetitive faulty movement patterns. Many of the acute injuries we suffer are caused by a sudden break down and error in a movement. And, our musculoskeletal system (our muscles and bones), which makes movement possible, is considered the most reliable indicator of overall health. So, if you’re interested in avoiding chronic pain or acute injuries, and you value your overall health, then we can agree that healthy, functional movement is VERY important and should never be taken for granted.
So, what steps can you take to choose and build a relationship with a physical therapist (PT)? First, do some research and find a local PT who specializes in an area of your interest (e.g. running). Many PTs have specialty areas of clinical practice, including sports, chronic pain, vestibular dysfunction, and even specific regions of the body (e.g. low back or shoulder). Once you find a PT, talk to your parents about contacting the office where YOUR PT practices and setting up an initial evaluation. In many cases, YOUR PT will do a free screen and discuss with you (and your parents) any areas that may increase your risk of injury or impair your quality of movement. Ask YOUR PT for a home exercise program, which is a list of exercises you can do at home to address any movement related impairments found during your screen. Find out what social media YOUR PT uses and follow them, or check their website for regular updates. These can be great resources for daily and weekly tips and recommendations for a healthier, active, and injury free lifestyle. Ask your coach or teachers to invite YOUR PT to perform an injury prevention screen for your entire team or classroom (PTs love doing this!). Consult YOUR PT before you start a new sport, or change to a new exercise routine. They can make sure you have the necessary movement tools to avoid injury and perform your best. Make YOUR PT your first contact if you develop any new pain or suffer an injury (ask YOUR PT about Direct Access, which allows you to participate in physical therapy without a physician prescription for up to 30 days). And finally, schedule an annual movement screen with YOUR PT. As your body changes, your movement changes, so you’ll definitely want to follow up regularly with YOUR PT to get the most out of every move you make.
If you have any questions, please contact me, Dr. Matt Schildknecht, or Kinetic’s Adolescent Sports Medicine Program Director, Dr. Michelle Feairheller. Our contact information is right on this website. We’re more than happy to tell you the many ways a PT can make you an All Star in the game of life. And the next time someone says, “raise your hand if you have your own PT”, I hope you enthusiastically throw your hand in the air!