Sunday, January 14, 2018

5 Reasons Everyone Should Get a Regular "Tune-Up" from a Physical Therapist (1 of 2)

Physical Therapists at Work (via Wikipedia article)
[Caveat: I'm not a medical professional. I'm just an ordinary guy who's received lots of benefit from periodic visits to physical therapists. So I hereby share the goodness! - MG]

In my view, getting physical therapy (PT) should be similar to going to the dentist:
  • You should go at least every couple of years for a "tune-up."
  • The PT visits should be matched by your own daily maintenance routine.
  • This daily maintenance routine should be custom-tailored by the PT experts to address your aging body's unique anomalies -- especially those requiring immediate preventative maintenance actions.
At the end of this article, I'll share a few of my own specific medical conditions that were effectively treated by periodic PT. For now, consider this list of general benefits of regular interactions with a PT professional as we age:

Five Benefits of Periodic Physical Therapy (PT) Diagnosis and Rx

1. Your body changes over time and you need to manage that change. It's up to you: Will you simply go with it and accept the newly accumulating limitations and pains while you adapt your lifestyle to match? Or will you proactively manage or reverse the changes? PT can help you do the latter.

2. Minor aches & pains that start as quiet background noise can, little-by-little, become "louder and louder" if you ignore them, making you uncomfortable and gradually able to do less. Your vigor, activity level and overall joy of living can quietly slip away, leaving you a grumpy old person! PT can help you diagnose and treat the causes of these aches and pains when they first manifest -- before they become worse.

3. When you are able to do more physically, with less pain, life is simply more interesting and rewarding. You can go more places, see more things, create more and enjoy connecting with and helping other people. PT can help you achieve this more active state.

4. The research results are in! The more you exercise and move, the healthier (both mentally and physically) you are likely to be. In fact, several studies have shown exercise to be as effective as medication for treating depression. (Google it for yourself and see!) So staying physically active is critical! And physical therapists can help you figure out how to keep moving, despite your limitations.

5. When you overcome pain and physical limitations, you naturally build confidence and become more optimistic. You are, in effect, taking charge of your own aging process! Instead of sitting around as a victim feeling sorry for yourself, you are proactively "pushing back" against the indignities and debilitations imposed by the years. And PT can get you there!

Why I'm Such a Fan of PT

I know what it means to have serious physical problems fixed, or at least well-managed, with the help of physical therapists. Here are some specific ways I've benefited by their guidance:

Bad Knees -- In my 30s, having been a daily runner for more than a decade, I began to suffer frequent knee pain. Like many members of my family (father, uncles, brother) my knees appeared to be overly vulnerable to injury. When I had finally had enough of the pain, I visited my primary care physician who told me I might need surgery. I asked if there was any alternative and he said I could try PT. Subsequently, my PT pro provided a diagnosis that included a recommendation for several new warm-up stretches, custom-tailored to my knee issues, and a visit to a sports-oriented podiatrist.
Results: The podiatrist built me some customized orthotic inserts for my shoes which immediately changed the way my knees felt when running -- no more ligament strain! And the PT-recommended pre-running stretches calmed, and eventually helped eliminate, the knee pain. Whoo hoo! Surgery avoided!

Sciatica -- According to a Google search, "sciatica" is defined as "pain in the back, hip, and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back..." A few years ago I decided to drive thousands of miles across the U.S. pulling an RV in order to meet my wife who had flown ahead to meet relatives. Not having the benefit of the sane, mitigating presence of my better half, I drove for hours upon hours without stopping or stretching. Toward the end of my journey I developed fierce pain and numbness in my right leg that was subsequently diagnosed as sciatica. For weeks after the marathon driving was completed, the pain and numbness continued. Eventually, a PT visit resulted in a prescription for a whole bunch of stretching and strength-training exercises.
Results: Some of these things, I must admit, made absolutely no sense to me! Weird balancing on stairs one foot at a time, awkward cross-legged stretch-band positions, etc. -- I was skeptical. However, after about 3 weeks or so of doing these "goofy" moves daily, a miracle of sorts happened! The sciatica simply left! The PT folks had led me to re-align the strength of some key supporting muscles, stretched some nerve-compressing (and pain-inducing!) ligaments/tendons and generally got my driving-distorted lower back and legs restored to proper health. To this day, their prescribed exercises -- including the "goofy" ones -- help me keep sciatica at bay!

Osteopenia -- Osteopenia is a precursor to osteoporosis (severe thinning or "brittleness" of the bones). It turns out that I am genetically predisposed to osteoporosis. A few years ago I had a routine bone-density exam and discovered that I was showing symptoms of osteopenia (reduced bone density) in at least three locations in my back and hips. Rather than take some side-effect inducing pharmaceuticals, I opted to see if I could turn this around with diet and exercise before it became full-blown osteoporosis. My bone specialist at UCLA Health recommended some changes to my diet (adjusting vitamin D and calcium levels) as well as some new weight-bearing exercises that could encourage my bones to restore some of the lost bone mass. Armed with this Rx, I made a visit to my PT professionals who helped me fine-tune my exercise routine with some special stretches and warm-ups to prevent injuries.
Results: After a year or two of this custom-tailored regimen I not only showed no further reduction in bone mass, but showed a modest increase in the locations where thinning had been occurring. Once again, PT (and diet and exercise!) to the rescue!

Arthritis and Disk Degeneration -- As an aging baby boomer, I've put a lot of miles on my skeleton. The ordinary stresses of living have resulted in some arthritis in my lower spine and hips, as well as some severe disk degeneration. Now one thing we know about arthritis is that exercise is key to keeping it from becoming completely debilitating. So a couple of years ago, I took my x-rays and MRIs to my PT folks and ask them specifically how I could mitigate the impact of these two conditions. I told them my goal was simple: To keep moving as much as possible without causing any more damage!
Results:  They examined me and my diagnostic test results and hand-crafted a few stretches and strength-training exercises that would keep me going with my weight-lifting and cardio training without making the arthritis or the disk problems worse.


As you can see from the list above, I'm no stranger to the physical maladies and "wear and tear" of aging. However, with the help of PT professionals, I've been able to adapt to and, in some cases, overcome these maladies and keep moving! So how about you? Are you suffering with aches and pains that are keeping you from doing the things you love to do? Maybe it's time you consider how a PT pro might help you get back in the game!


Next: 5 Specific Steps to Get Your PT "Tune Up"

In the next post, I'll share "5 Specific Steps to Get Your Physical Therapy 'Tune-Up,'" including a handy, two-page PDF worksheet you can use to take charge of the process with the help of your medical team.

Stay tuned!