5 Things I Had Wrong About PT

Hello, everyone! I’m Allie, the Big League employee who is not a physical therapist. While I usually leave the job of crafting our blog posts to them (they are the experts), I thought it might be nice to offer a different perspective. Our therapists have been thinking about PT for a huge part of their lives. I, like most of the general public, had not. 

Before I had a chance to work with a physical therapist (as a patient and as a coworker), I had a whole set of preconceived notions about PT, fitness, and my body. Not only were most of them completely wrong–they held me back from seeking the help I needed to live a pain-free life.

1. I’m not an athlete. 

I have a dirty secret that I’m about to announce to the entire internet.

I have never ran a mile.

You know that person in high school who would develop a mysterious illness on the day you were supposed to do the mile in gym class? That was me. I have never been athletic, so I am not an athlete, right? This 100% HAS to disqualify me from athlete status. 

The Truth 💣

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to be The Rock Dwayne Johnson sweating your butt off for hours on end in the iron paradise to be an athlete. There are no qualifications on how strong, fast, or agile you must be to be an athlete. You really just have to want to move your body in some way—whatever that looks like for you. I’m still no runner, but I really enjoy lifting heavy weights. I’m an athlete. 

2. I don’t have fitness goals.

As someone who has never thought of themselves as an athlete, I wasn’t ready to set any goals. There was no burning passion deep down that I had for activity of any sort. What could that goal even be for me, the NARP (non-athletic regular person)?

The Truth 💣

I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that literally every person on the face of the planet has some sort of fitness goal. Getting out of pain is not the goal—but there is something in your life that is important enough for you to want to do the work to get out of pain. Maybe you want to run a 5k to show yourself that you can. Or you just want to look good naked (there is no shame in that!). Do you want to be able to play at the park with your kid without worrying about throwing out your back? That’s a fitness goal! Knowing what your goal is will keep you motivated when things get boring/hard/scary down the road. And believe me, they will get boring, hard, and scary at some point in the process.

3. I need to get in shape before I start working with them, because I’m going to embarrass myself. 

Ahhhh, yes. The age old adage of needing to work out to be able to go somewhere…to work out. THIS IS COMPLETE GARBAGE. Trash. Gum under your shoes. In my head, I am grabbing you by the collar right now and I am shaking you because I want you to get this trash thought out of your head right this second. *recollects herself* Ok, let’s get back to business.

The Truth 💣

I only get really heated about this one because I’ve been there before. So many times. The number of classes and memberships that I’ve paid for but then bailed on because of this is embarrassing. If you are ready to work on your fitness in a class, with a coach, or with a medical professional, it’s their job to meet you where you are. Waiting to get “on their level” defeats the purpose of their expertise! They are there to help you improve, not to make you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or inadequate. If you ever feel this way in a fitness or medical situation, I suggest that you gather your things and exit the room. That person or establishment does not deserve to help you on your journey.

4. My pain isn’t THAT bad, and I can learn how to deal with it on my own. 

I had back pain constantly for about a decade. The cycle went like this:

The injury cycle
This is a *very scientific* depiction of my injury cycle. I know I’m not the only one who has gone through this!

Most of the time, I’d rest or use a heating pad until I felt ok to walk again. I turned to the internet for help. Going to the actual medical doctor meant that I was going to be told to rest, get some imaging, or be handed a prescription without any real guidance or assistance. Side note: I didn’t have bad doctors, but the American healthcare system prioritizes caring for symptoms over finding preventative solutions. They were doing their job, but that wasn’t the type of care I needed or found helpful in this situation. Over the years, I learned to deal with my pain and would chalk up a flare up to “just having a bad back.” 

The Truth 💣

I was minimizing the pain and disruption my injury was causing me and I wasn’t seeking out adequate care to break the work-injury-rest-repeat cycle. When you’re in pain for a long time, you tend to normalize it. We begin to believe that the state of pain we’re in is just how our body works. Once I found a PT who was willing to put in the time and work to help get me out of pain, I gained freedom of movement. I’m not scared to lift heavy weights, go to the gym, or to try new things because I trust my body and know that I’ve got coaches in my corner helping me.

5. Your PT will fix you. 

I was thinking about PT in the same way that I would think about taking my car to the mechanic. All of the parts need to be in good condition to make sure my car can get down the road. If one of the parts isn’t working correctly, I’ll take it to someone to fix/replace/tune up (after keeping the check engine light on for as long as I can remember). Easy, right? 

The Truth 💣

The problem with this metaphor is that human beings are so much more than the mechanical parts that make us up. Yes, there may have been a mechanical issue with my back that was causing me pain. But I was also working in a high stress job for 80+ hours a week on very little sleep. I was eating food that was convenient, but that wasn’t necessarily the fuel my body wanted. A good physical therapist is going to dig in to find out what’s actually going on with you as a whole person, not just as an injury. Sure, they can give you a list of exercises to work on, but if you’re getting 4 hours of sleep a night and your stress levels are through the roof, the pain will eventually come back. 

A PT shouldn’t be there to fix you. You are not a car. But, they should be there to help you take control of your health. Find a PT that’s willing to put in the time and effort to learn who you are. They should give you the tools to empower yourself to be where you want to be. You’re going to have to put in a lot of time and effort into your own recovery. It’s not easy, there is no quick fix, and it’s not going to be a linear progression, but if you’re working with the right team and you’re doing your part the results will come. 

Ok Allie, who can help me out then?

If you’re an ATHLETE (yes, you are) in the Washington D.C. area dealing with pain, discomfort, or something that just isn’t feeling right, please reach out.  We work with people just like me on a regular basis. These are people who are healthy and active who want to stay that way for the long term. If any of this has hit home, shoot us a message to get started living your pain free, high performance life today!

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