3 Things I’ve Learned As A Physical Therapist

Thanks to a solo road trip and a great podcast, I’ve found myself reflecting on my career as a physical therapist. The host prompted me to think about the thoughts, processes, and beliefs that I started with as a bright-eyed new graduate and how they’ve changed as I’ve gained experience, knowledge, and skills. I take pride in being a lifelong learner and will always embrace reflection… but woof, looking back to some of the things I said, did AND believed is wildHere’s the top 3 things I’ve learned as a physical therapist.

  1. I can’t “fix” everyone. 

I was trained that physical therapy is the “holy grail” of conservative care. It was our job to keep people away from surgery, injections, and medications. With the perfect treatment plan consisting of the perfect dosage of manual therapy, stretches, and exercises, I should be able to heal every client that walked in the door. I truly believed this and would spend hours researching exercises and techniques that could provide that magical “fix”. 

I do believe that this mindset made me a better clinician in the fact that I persisted through some tricky cases and gained a TON of knowledge through those hours of research. And yes, PT can do some miraculous things for the majority of people when properly assessed and treated. However, time and experience have taught me that’s not *always* the case. I have a specific skill set that I will diligently and passionately give each patient, but it’s also my job to recognize that surgery, medication, and injections have their place and to make those referrals. Getting to work side-by-side with Dr. Rachel is the absolute best because we get to do this every day. 

  1. I’m not in the driver’s seat.

As a new grad, I would get so frustrated because I would give a patient 8 research-based exercises (with pictures!), 3 lifestyle changes, shoe/pillow recommendations, etc… only to find out that they’d maybe done 2 of the things I so eagerly suggested. I literally laugh at this now, because not only was it information overload, the patient is NOT obligated to do everything I say. A mentor gave the analogy of a car ride, where the patient is in the driver’s seat and I’m in the passenger’s. I can suggest where to go and how to get there, but ultimately the patient gets to choose their path. Rather than being frustrated by the 100 things I’d like my patients to do, I’ve found much more joy and success by focusing on 2-3 powerful interventions that align with the patients’ values, goals and beliefs. That being said, I’m not afraid to give a little “tough love” to someone who’s maybe resistant to change some behaviors that are likely contributing to their pain experience. We take pride in this patient-centered approach, as it gives us quality time with each patient so we can make recommendations accordingly. 

  1. I can’t (and shouldn’t) promise injury prevention

Here’s another innocent belief I had: with the right strength + mobility program, I could prevent injuries from happening. I would tell patients that with a stronger core and better hip flexibility, they wouldn’t injure their lower back. I even believed that about my OWN back injury. Well, it sounds too good to be true because it is. 🙂 Injuries are part of training, competing, and even everyday life. We can definitely reduce this risk with well-rounded training, proper nutrition, and quality sleep… but that’s not always the case. Life happens, illness happens, training errors happen. Rather than having my patients be discouraged that their previously-managed pain returned, I focus on empowering them with a plan to manage their symptoms and get back on track. I also encourage occasional “maintenance” PT/Chiro treatments to catch issues early. Regardless, I’d much rather deal with an occasional flare up than the depression/anxiety, diabetes, and heart disease that I’d likely get if I didn’t move my body. 

It’s fun to reflect on these 3 things, but what’s REALLY cool is that I get to use what I’ve learned every single day at The Body Lab. I can collaborate with an elite chiropractor in a clinic that truly puts the patient first. This non-traditional model allows for monthly check-ins and maintenance, all while still being present and available for the inevitable flare up. It’s a place for learning and growth… and trust me, it’s something you want to be part of, too. You get to be in the driver’s seat while we ride along and encourage movements and behaviors that we truly feel will improve your quality of life. Aaaaand we may suggest a cold plunge, tart cherry juice, and one of our awesome strength/mobility programs. 🙂

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