2004-11-12 / Columnists

Eye On Physical Therapy

By Dr. Tim Rohrs


Not long ago my father came in for treatment for neck pain. I like to relate this story to other patients because it illustrates the way many people who come for therapy think. As I have said, on numerous occasions in this column, therapy is really about strengthening what is weak and stretching what is tight. Physical therapy is about trying to restore a joint or joints to as close to textbook normal as possible. Whether that joint is a knee, ankle or a set of joints such as in the neck or low back. Each patient’s exercise prescription is developed specifically for them; to address their needs and limitations. The exercise for one person with neck pain might be very similar or very different from another person who has neck pain.

As my father progressed along with his sessions, I would ask him if he was complying with his home exercise program. He would assure me that he was. That was until the day my mother accompanied him to therapy. When I asked him if he was still doing his exercises at home he replied his usual “sure I am!” My mother chimed in that in fact he never did his home exercises. I looked at my father and asked what the truth was. He responded that the previous day he had mowed the lawn and painted the fence. Over the past weekend he had cleaned up all the leaves.That was his exercise. I explained to him that those were physical activities, and that although they were certainly better for him than lying around all day, they were not the therapeutic excises that had been prescribed. The exercises and stretches that were taught to him were given to help restore normal mobility and flexibility. And while I am sure the yard looked great after he was done with the other activities, there would be no benefit for his neck pain by accomplishing those tasks.

This scenario replays itself at least once a week in my office. Each time it does, I chastise myself because I know that I could have and should have done a better job communicating .

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