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Why Can’t I Just…?

October is National Physical Therapy Month! There are so many people who only have a vague concept (or no idea at all) of what physical therapy is, so it’s a good time to explain what it is that I really do. In a nutshell, physical therapy helps you move. When injury or illness takes away your ability to turn your head, bend over to tie your shoes, swing a golf club, walk to the bus, or any of the other thousands of activities you do throughout your day, physical therapists utilize exercise, education, and pain reduction techniques to help build your body back up so you can do the things you need to do.

Sounds simple, right? It is, but it’s not always easy. Physical therapy requires you to be actively involved in your recovery (see my post on that topic here), and sometimes people ask me if there is an easier way. I call these the “why can’t I just…” questions.

Q: “Why can’t I just take a pill or get an injection to get rid of my pain?”
A: You can, if it’s approved by your doctor. But keep in mind that pills and injections only mask symptoms. They do nothing to address the cause of your pain, and therefore, it will continue to return again and again. Your physical therapy sessions will include both exercises to address the cause of your pain as well as inflammation reduction and pain control techniques so you can feel better while you get better.

Q: “Why can’t I just rehab myself at home?”
A: If it’s a very minor injury, you can rehab at home by using the RICE technique (get more info on that here). But if your injury is more serious, you will need professional guidance if you want a full recovery. Imagine you are trying to learn to speak Italian. Will you gain knowledge more quickly and more completely by yourself at home or in a classroom setting, led by a knowledgeable instructor and surrounded by other individuals with the same goal? But don’t worry – just like in Italian class, your physical therapy session will include homework (exercises to do at home). Buona!

Q: “Why can’t I just see my chiropractor for an adjustment?”
A: The primary difference between chiropractors and physical therapists is that chiropractors focus on the spine, while physical therapists work with muscles and tendons in addition to the spine. If you need to get stronger and more flexible to return to your daily activities (and pretty much everyone does), a visit to your physical therapist is needed.

Q: “I already move around all day in my job as a cashier/construction worker/house cleaner/etc. Why can’t I just use that as exercise for my rehab?”
A: The obvious question here is – are you getting better using this strategy? I guarantee you’re not. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that your pain symptoms are getting worse. Physical therapy is not a one-size-fits-all program, and simply doing any random exercise won’t cut it. A patient with knee pain will require different treatments than someone with shoulder pain or someone with headaches. After evaluating your condition, your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program geared towards your specific needs.

As the “why can’t I just…” questions eventually learn, you really can’t cut corners when it comes to your health. The road to rehabilitation is sometimes long, but it’s definitely worth the journey. So what can physical therapy do for you? Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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