Celebrating Physical Therapists!
National Physical Therapy Month is observed every October acknowledging the field and its practitioners. There is history dating back to 1813 of gymnastics techniques developed around theories of movement and muscle operation attributed to early physical therapy practices. In 1921, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was formed and answered the call to treat veterans. Over the next decades, focus on polio and injuries from combat (e.g., amputations, spinal cord injuries, etc.) as well as the treatment of President Franklin Roosevelt brought physical therapy into the main stream of rehabilitation and healthcare.
Much research has been done in the specialty of Physical Therapy in the field of brain injury rehabilitation and fine tuning in the specialized treatments of cervicogenic pain, vestibular issues, balance impairments and movement disorders allowing our therapists to combine orthopedic knowledge with neurologic theories to provide comprehensive care to the people we treat. Technology has offered great resources including metronome therapy, vestibular goggles, lift systems, artificial limbs with movement sensors and smart technology to add cognitive support to the mobility needs of the people we treat.
How has the way we deliver Physical Therapy changed?
Thirty-five years ago ReMed had two sites and a third site was just opening – all three were in fairly rural/suburban areas. (Side note – that third site, now known as Willow Pond, was a horse farm - we even had a horse there for a very short period of time, but that’s a story for another blog.) At that time, Physical Therapy was always functionally based, treating directly in the house where the client was living.
Then we opened a community apartment program in Philadelphia. This was true real-life rehabilitation. The people we served were challenged with many physical barriers including small bathrooms with bathtubs (instead of the state of the art showers many of our programs have today), kitchens that were not accessible and living in an urban environment. While challenges were significant, it was this location that allowed us to combine skill-building in the clinic with real life practice in the community. Our first outpatient site was our first experience treating people who lived in the community – we went into their homes, worksites, schools and communities, and they came to our clinic.
What keeps physical therapists like us going?
We think about the people we’ve helped and the things we’ve done to help them - it’s more than a few weeks of therapy and functional gains. Working with individuals who are cognitively impaired presents an additional and unique challenge. And many of the people we have treated have co-occurring, lifetime issues that need to be addressed at certain junctures over time.
Individuals who have sustained mild brain injuries present yet another unique set of challenges. Dizziness, headaches, neck pain and back pain are just some of the issues of which these individuals complain. Working with the treatment team we are usually able to uncover what the issue is and begin focusing on related treatment. Collaborating with other disciplines is critical for us to successfully deliver the right services to the individuals we serve. Treating our clients in the community helps improve their independence and well-being. We have assisted many injured workers and helped them return to work at horse farms, markets, museums, driving buses, teaching school, office work, etc. – we’ve even returned police officers to active duty. Critical to our success with injured workers is involving their employers early on while making sure employers know we are available in the event the injured worker has a setback or the employer needs guidance.
One of the hardest things we face is seeing deterioration in the people we serve or have served in the past as they age. Many of the skills they proudly learned to complete on their own, which allowed them to be independent such as walking, getting in and out of a car, taking public transportation, transfers and even getting into bed at night may no longer be accomplished without assistance. As physical therapists, we are able to assist in redesigning space, developing mobility strategies, training family and caregivers, and keeping these individuals safe and in place as they age.
Susan Martin White is a Physical Therapist who has worn many hats in her years at ReMed. She is currently part of the treatment team in our Community Outpatient Services program in Paoli, PA. Susan’s expertise is sought often by all of our programs in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
Amy Szalinski is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and works as a Clinical Specialist in our western Pennsylvania Neurorehabilitation residential programs. She works closely with the team to ensure treatment programs are on track and working for the individuals that we serve.