When Physical Therapy becomes Magical


Image via Wikipedia

by Madeline Laughs

No one wants to go to Physical Therapy.

A patient walking into a physical therapy office for the first time is a person that hurts. That is something easy to forget, but it’s true. You walk in and the waiting room is full of people in pain, the studio is full of people in pain. Everyone there for treatment is in pain. Something in them has malfunctioned and the best remedy their doctor can prescribe for this is manipulation and concentration on the broken part of them.

This is where physical therapy works it’s magic. 

Whenever I’ve been prescribed PT some of my friends lamented that I was getting extended days at the spa. Kind of like I was getting a mani/pedi and sitting in a hot tub. Ha! Physical therapy is not a day at the spa, though I will confess to falling asleep on those luxurious, damp hot pads they put under you to loosen the muscles.  But my reasons for falling asleep had nothing to do with being pampered. It was from exhaustion.

My first experience of PT was shortly after my accident. My doctor wanted to try to pop the disc back into place and to give me some immediate relief. This was before my MRI when he realized it was shattered and bone chips were carving up my spine.

See the post about my back, My Back Hurts.

I wasn’t terrified, until they discussed their plan of action with me. Traction. Just the sound of that word coming out of their mouths was enough to make me turn around and go back home. But the sound of the word was nothing compared to what they did next.

PT offices all have a few things in common. The workout area resembles a gym. In the workout area there are various machines for working different muscle groups. There are low double sized platform beds that the therapist will use to teach stretches or to work different areas of the body while prone.

Individual suites have equipment in them for ultrasound treatments and deep tissue massage. There are tall padded single sized tables in these rooms and a door that closes for privacy.

I was led into one of these suites and in the corner, at the foot of the padded table, was the traction machine.

Once she got me positioned on the table the way she wanted me, she started strapping me into a harness that cradled my hips and lower torso. Then she attached more straps connecting this to my waist and hooked the whole contraption to the machine at the foot of the padded table. She explained each move to me in a soothing voice and I listened.

Visions of The Rack danced in my head. I know my heart rate was increasing and I was starting to break out in a cold nervous sweat. But I kept quiet and tried to center myself by remembering they were professional and knew what they were doing.

The traction machine was digital and she spent some time keying in commands and testing the movement to make sure I was comfortable. Then she reached down and dropped the bottom of the table that was beneath my lower back, so it was dangling in midair,  and being held in place by the harness.

“No!” I shouted. She came to me quickly. She made me focus on her and she explained why it was necessary to have the table be open. I didn’t like it any better, even knowing the logic behind it. I felt trapped and helpless.

Sensing my trepidation, she put a bell in my hand and told me to ring it if I felt any discomfort at all. I didn’t want her to leave the room. I begged her to just sit in there with me. She patted my hand and told me I’d be okay. She smiled and closed the door.

One thing you learn quickly in PT is how to let go of some of your own control issues.

I laid there, gripping that bell. I tried to relax, like she told me to. I tried to find some kind of comfort and healing in what was being done to my body at the moment. I listened to the hiss and drone of the machine as it gently pulled my body taunt and then slowly released it.

It didn’t hurt.

After a while, I fell asleep.

What is traction and what does it do?

“The purpose of traction is to:

  • To regain normal length and alignment of involved bone.
  • To reduce and immobilize a fractured bone.
  • To lessen or eliminate muscle spasms.
  • To relieve pressure on nerves, especially spinal.
  • To prevent or reduce skeletal deformities or muscle contractures.

In most cases traction is only one part of the treatment plan of a patient needing such therapy. The physician’s order will contain:

  • Type of traction
  • Amount of weight to be applied
  • Frequency of neurovascular checks if more frequent than every four (4) hours.
  • Site care of inserted pins, wires, or tongs
  • The site and care of straps, harnesses and halters
  • The inclusion of any other physical restraints / straps or appliances (eg. mouth guard)
  • the discontinuation of traction”

After many treatments I could stand for longer periods of time and I felt better, but I wasn’t showing enough improvement. My doctor realized my spine was beyond physical therapy. I had to have surgery. The fact remains that without PT I wouldn’t have had the good days I had before my operation. Those therapists were responsible for many of my better days back then.

Since then I have been an avid proponent of physical therapy. I will require bouts of PT for the rest of my life. I believe that the right physical therapist can make your life so much better when you’re suffering from bodily aches and pains that you can’t resolve without help.

When I’m prescribed PT the first question I ask is “Are you afraid to touch your patients?” You’d be surprised by some of the answers I get. And you’d be surprised by the few therapists that prefer to hook you up to a tens machine and walk away, never laying a healing hand on you.

I want a therapist to dig deep once they start working on my back. I want them to find those knots and trigger points and and use their elbows to flatten them. These days if they want to put me in traction, I have no problem hopping up on the table.

Only you will know what is working for you, and what doesn’t. Everyone is different and has their own preferences.

Believe me when I tell you that physical therapy is the best medicine a doctor can prescribe. Go and marvel at how much better you’ll feel after the first few treatments. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m in my last few weeks of my latest PT. I was scheduled for 3 visits a week in the beginning until I felt that I could taper off and eventually stop coming.

After my first treatment I left feeling pretty much the same as I did before I arrived. But I didn’t expect an overnight sensation. I just wanted to get the process started. Visit 2 had me leaving their office wearing an ice pack and limping home. She was starting to work through the mess on the surface enough that she could dig a little deeper to the real problem. After Visit 4 I started to experience pain in new places and that surprised me. As the initial throbbing mass was surrendering, other areas, that were also torqued, found their voice and surfaced. These were areas that were already inflamed, but were outvoted by the bigger muscles.

I was feeling more even now.

Yesterday I was standing in the shower. Part of my routine was bending at the waist and turning the water temp up as high as it would go and letting the water pound on my lower back. I learned this method of treatment when I listened to an interview with Shirley MacClaine. She sees the bath as a spiritual and healing process. She’s a dancer and always has some ache or pain and the bath is the best place to work those out.

I finished washing all the little bits and conditioning my mane of hair and realized that I hadn’t done my lower back routine.

Then I realized that my back didn’t hurt.

Physical therapy…it’s magic.

About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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