How YOU Can Benefit from Physical Therapy

By guest writer Ben Shatto, PT, DPT, OCS

I can’t tell you how many times someone will ask me what I do for a living, and upon hearing that I am a physical therapist, he or she will immediately divulge his/her complex personal medical history about a health issue or describe some past experience with a physical therapist (PT).  The stories are usually exceedingly positive or as one may expect, very negative and unfortunate.  This in no way upsets me to hear about one’s personal experiences or medical history.  However, it is concerning that so many people live with chronic aches and pains and (apparently) aren’t able to resolve the problem.  I can’t promise that physical therapy is the panacea of all cures for what ails you, but I have seen it work miracles in people’s lives.  The most amazing thing is the diversity of people I have had the privilege to interact with and help!

Often the answer or treatment plan for a person’s particular issue is not what is expected.  For example, a common complaint is shoulder pain.  Many people struggle to lift overhead properly and often have shoulder pain.  This pain is typically from what is known as shoulder impingement syndrome leading to tendonitis of the rotator cuff.

There are many “standard” treatments for this ailment depending on the medical practitioner you ask.  For example, a physician is likely to offer pain medications (and possibly an anti-inflammatory medication); advice on icing and taking it easy; and if particularly progressive, a physician may even provide a hand out regarding elastic band exercises.  Some physical therapists would likely offer similar advice, such as icing and elastic band exercises to strengthen a muscle group known as the rotator cuff muscles.  (The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that are important in the movement and stability of the shoulder.)

Time and time again, after a thorough examination of the client, I understand why the shoulder is hurting.  The person has no thoracic mobility likely due from: years of poor posture; office work; washing dishes; taking care of children; or sitting watching TV for hours.  Maybe these activities have led to a very rigid and immobile thoracic spine.

Poor thoracic mobility is a big deal when it comes to shoulder mobility.  The shoulder joint is made up of the scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus (the arm bone to the elbow).  The shoulder blade and the thoracic spine also make a type of joint.  If the thoracic spine is stiff, the shoulder blade is unable to rotate correctly–affecting the way the ball of the humerus spins in the socket of the shoulder blade.  This leads to impingement of the rotator cuff and biceps tendon which causes pain.  If you don’t treat the lack of thoracic mobility, it will be very difficult to ever resolve the shoulder pain.

This real and all too common example of why a person develops shoulder pain is to illustrate why seeing a physical therapist is so valuable.  How would a person know the real cause of the shoulder pain if he or she didn’t ask a physical therapist?  The answer is that he or she wouldn’t know.  Unfortunately, he or she would likely go round and round from one treatment to the next without fully recovering or understanding the real reason why the pain developed in the first place.

Worse yet, as the shoulder pain worsens so does one’s ability to function and his/her quality of life.  In an older adult, this so often begins a downward spiral away from healthy aging and toward an abnormal aging process.  This same example is seen in many of the most common orthopaedic complaints from foot and ankle pain to knee or low back pain.

The dichotomy of the human body is that it is very simple and fragile, yet a complex and robust machine!  The body is truly remarkable and full of surprises.  Many of the most common aches and pains a person may have can be described in a similar scenario like mentioned above. 

Physical therapy can help!  Some issues are not so black and white.  Many issues are like peeling an onion with many layers to the problem.  I believe it is crucial to have a physical therapist on your team to help you live a long, happy life performing the activities that you want for as long as you want!

Age is relative, and movement is the key to healthy living. The goal for health aging is to improve health span, which means the length of time that a person is healthy and thriving in his or her life and not just alive.  Physical therapy can help with healthy aging by improving health span and assisting in a more successful aging process.  We are all capable of successfully aging if we are intentional about the process.

Physical therapists can help you improve, restore or maintain your ability to move and function in your daily life.  As a physical therapist, I help people participate in life, whatever that may be for each individual.  To learn more about physical therapists, visit the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

How Can Physical Therapy Benefit You?

  • Assist in recovery from a surgery (assisting in complete recovery and integration back into daily life or sport)
  • Assist in recovery from a stroke or heart attack
  • Assist in improving strength or endurance after an illness or prolonged inactivity
  • Assist in improving balance and walking ability to prevent falls
  • Maintain independence
  • Pain management including low back pain, shoulder pain, hip or knee pain and/or arthritis pain
  • Improve athletic performance by optimizing movement patterns
  • Health and injury prevention in sport and in life (work or play)

Physical therapists can help guide you through any array of recovery or rehabilitation: return to work, sport, running, and CrossFit.  Whatever your desired activity may be, a physical therapist can help you get moving and “living” again!  Fundamentally, movement is life!

Editor’s Note:  This article was written by Ben Shatto, PT, DPT, OCS.  Ben is Director of Operations at MultiCare Home Health & Personal Care Services, founder and editor of the website, and owner of The Medical Fitness Center in Eagle, Idaho.  Ben teaches and helps guide proactive adults how to safely implement the proper exercise prescription to improve quality of life and prevent or manage chronic disease and illness in order to age well.

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