Plunging Into Physical Therapy

Plunging Into Physical Therapy

Plunging Into Physical Therapy

             
By TOM BAYLES H-T Health + Fitness Correspondent, Herald-Tribune 
It was back at the dawn of this century that I was cleaning a rug in my living room, and for no apparent reason a searing, white-hot flash of pain shot throughout my back. I crumpled to the floor.
That unpleasant moment began my journey into the world of physical therapy. Every doctor I went to, up the ladder of back specialists and super-specialists, sent me off for another round of physical therapy. I’m a pro now, but that first time was nerve-wracking.
There is a old axiom I unfortunately know about, one that must have been based in truth somewhere along the way: That “PT” stands for “pain and torture.” With this in mind, walking into that first clinic gave me the sweats. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong.
It has become clear to me that physical therapy means different things to different people in the mix, whether patient or practitioner.
Keefe Fugleberg, co-founder of European Physical Therapy in Sarasota 11 years ago, said therapy often involves more than what a patient expects.
“Even if you come in with a back problem, we know you are going to have lower back weakness as well, so we focus on the whole body,” he says.
Aquatic therapy, Fugleberg says, is particularly useful for patients who have had significant surgery, such as joint replacements or spinal fusions.
“The buoyancy puts the patient in an almost weightless environment, and really helps those with hip and knee replacements more quickly normalize walking,” he said.
Relief for some can be found after six or eight visits to a physical therapist. No such luck for me. Since the pair of operations to fuse vertebrae in my lower back last year, I have been doing my current round of physical therapy for more than three months. My recovery is happening; it is just … so … slow.
At least physical therapy makes me feel young; I started in my early 30s, and 10 years later I remain, almost always, decades younger than the next-youngest person in the room.
People like me, seeking ways to alleviate pain without medication, also try other things that may or may not fall under the physical therapy umbrella, such as acupuncture, biofeedback, acupressure, hypnosis and yoga. My current back doctor said that if all else fails, we will try leeches. I’m pretty sure he was kidding.
These days I am running on an underwater treadmill with water jets aimed at me to simulate an uphill jog — yet I’m not moving forward at all, which gives me the cardiovascular benefit without the pounding my back would take.
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