Healthy stretching

A woman practices strength and stretching exercises with a physiotherapist.

So long to 2020. It was a year we are glad to put behind us. I hope you and your family are well, and that’s why I am starting the new year off with you with something that I believe can help.

I bet you think physical therapy is only needed when you have an injury, as part of a recovery plan from surgery or a medical procedure or if you’re having a problem with pain and nothing else you’ve tried has worked. Most people think that, but it’s really not the case. All of these issues do involve physical therapy, but there’s another way physical therapy can make an important difference.

Physical therapists have an important role to play in your body’s movement system. Most people have never heard of their movement system, so don’t feel bad if you haven’t. What’s important is to learn about it because understanding it can be the first step towards establishing the groundwork for lasting fitness and improved health.

You may have never heard of it, but physical therapists are specialists in the human movement system. There are many complicated definitions, but a simpler one that I like is that the human movement system is, “a system of physiological organ systems that interact to produce movement of the body and its parts.”

If you think about it, it makes sense. You have all kind of specialties in the medical field. Whether you’re having a heart problem, a vascular problem, or a bone problem, in-depth treatment often requires a specialist in that field. Physical therapists are experts in the neuromuscular and musculoskeletal systems and how they work together.

There are many ways to look at this area of expertise. Sure, it makes sense when you think about recovering from something like a fall or a broken bone. But, injuries and pain problems can evolve and be subtle. What you may not realize is that many problems involving pain or injuries happen over a period of time. They’re often the result of the kind of routine you’ve gotten into in terms of movements that you’re performing every single day. Your body tries to tell you, but you might not be reading the signals. It might be a twinge when you are getting out of bed or a little zing when you’re bending, lifting or getting up from a chair. That’s your body’s alert system and it’s letting you know something is wrong. It can happen when you are young and those of us of a certain age know that it is certainly true as we grow older. Think about the movement habits we perform on a daily basis. There are always signs a long time before the symptoms of pain and injuries develop. The signs lie within the movement system that is constantly working to accommodate you as you do something like stand or walk or bend.

In addition to everyday life movements, there can be other factors. If you’re still working, play sports or enjoy hobbies, so many of these involve repetitive movements that also impact your movement system. Physical therapists not only find those signs we’ve been talking about, but we read those signs and then work to address your problem to reduce your risk of pain and injury by improving your movement performance.

So, what to do when you or someone you know are having signs that something isn’t right? The first step is the obvious one. Make an appointment with the doctor whom you’ve been communicating with about the issue or issues you have been experiencing. Discuss your interest in seeing a physical therapist. If your doctor is on board, make an appointment with a physical therapist to get an evaluation. You can also call a physical therapist directly for an appointment depending on any health challenges that you may have.

We’ve talked about this before, but I want you to understand what to expect when you go to see a physical therapist because you need to be comfortable with the process. Just as when you go to see your doctor, your physical therapist will examine you and talk with you about what you are experiencing. Telling your physical therapist all that you can about your situation, the issues your problem is causing, and other health problems is extremely important. Remember that you are going to be working together as a team, so don’t forget to think of this as a partnership.

Hands-on therapy and a specific program designed for your individual needs will be created by your physical therapist to help you achieve the best possible outcome.

As you move forward and your physical therapy sessions come to an end, you also have some important decisions to make. Are you going to make some changes? What’s next? Your physical therapist can help you with advice on how you can take better care of yourself and continue to build your fitness. As we’ve discussed before, there are programs available like the one here at Tidewater Physical Therapy that allow you to participate in a group setting to work on your strength and fitness. I know I’ve shared with you before that these are great social experiences, too, so they can have an impact in more ways than one. Figuring out next steps that are right for you will be part of your partnership, so keep the dialogue going.

The most important take away from this visit here in the Coastal Point is a simple. Don’t put off dealing with the situation if you have a problem. It doesn’t make you tougher and it sure won’t make it better. What that delay can do is wind up hurting yourself in the long run. Start this year off right. As I keep telling you, I want you to live your life to the fullest and have the best possible quality of life. Invest in yourself. This is your life we’re talking about. Value your time and invest in you!

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.