Friday, November 18, 2011

Physical Therapy Rant

Physical therapy is currently a big part of my life, and it is pure torture. Not in the sense that I am made to work incredibly hard with copious amounts of sweat and tears involved, but in the sense that it is the most boring and non-productive part of my day. I had been to this particular physical therapy center in the past and had a therapist who was creative and dynamic. He kept things interesting and challenging. All the clients in the gym were kept working hard and there was constant interaction between the Physical Therapists/PT assistants and the clients. The staff were all athletic and fit. I left there each day, feeling that I had made progress.

So when I had to chose some place to go for rehabilitation of my shoulder, I chose the same place. But times have changed there. The old staff has moved on and there is now a staff of young men in their twenties. Like their predecessors, they are also athletes...but of the arm chair variety. They talk (to each other) about professional sports teams, high school sports, statistics, coaches, sports products, and the TV sports schedule. They do this while hunched over their lap tops documenting on their client's progress. I understand electronic documentation. I'm a health care professional myself and have to spend a lot of time documenting on my lap top. Yet, I am able to do this in a manner that shows my patients that they are the center of my attention while I am with them. Documentation can be caught up on between patients.

How well has my therapist gotten to know me over the past month and a half? Well, he knows I mountain bike, since that was the cause of my injury. He doesn't know that I run or hike or work out with weights or cross country ski. This is important stuff to know if you are trying to help a person return to their baseline level of activity. He knows I am almost fifty (gasp) and he treats me like an old woman. He'll say (or send his assistant over to say), "bicep curls with two pound weights, 3 sets of 10." I have progressed to 10 pound weights at home and was easily doing thirty pound weights before the injury, but he won't listen to me about that. He'll say something like, "we all lose muscle mass as we age." Granted, almost all of their patients these days are elderly, mostly hip and knee replacements it appears, and most of them seem content to sit around waiting for their next exercise to be prescribed. It is the most sedentary, desolate, morgue-like "gym" I have ever been in! This is supposed to be a sports physical therapy center, and it used to be one! What the heck happened?

Yesterday I spoke up on my way out. I spoke loud enough that the row of boyish heads bent over laptops all looked up briefly. I said, "this is a big waste of my time. You people are not doing anything to help me. I can do all this at home by myself." This emboldened an elderly man lying on an exam table to speak up, "and I've been laying here with this ice pack on my knee for almost an hour!" I was hoping others would join in the protest and the gym would finally see some excitement. But the others kept shuffling around with their walkers or pulling on their resistance bands or squeezing their tennis balls between their knees. They didn't even seem to take notice. Most of them were probably sleeping through their therapy.

One of the staff responded. It wasn't my therapist, it was the young guy who strolls around picking up dirty towels and rounding up escaped exercise balls. He said, "You'll be able to do more as you get stronger. It will get better." He didn't sound very convincing. Nobody has checked my strength since the first visit, so how are they ever going to know when I "get stronger"? Heads bent back down to laptops. Nobody made a move to relieve the old guy of his ice pack.

So why do I continue to go? Because my surgeon insists that I complete 10 weeks of physical therapy before I can return to work. Maybe I should switch to a different PT center. My insurance is restrictive about where I can go, but there are other options. I hate to switch horses mid-stream, but it might be necessary. I will definitely give my input about the center to their parent company. I don't like to criticize any one's work in this day of job insecurity, but insurance, medicare, and patient's money is being spent in abundance on inferior services, and this isn't acceptable. Worse, my time is being wasted!

Enough of this, I have a physical therapy appointment to get to. I think I'll bring along a book today.


  1. Amber and I are both sorry to hear about your bad PT experience. As therapists ourselves we don't like hearing stories like this. Hopefully you're therapist reads this and changes the way he treats.

    Good luck!

  2. I, too, am a PT and am so sad to hear this is your experience (and that it's the experience of others there). I and many other PT's work so hard to provide excellent care in a compassionate, warm, and very specific manner regardless of age or activity level. We LOVE motivated patients and believe strongly in the whole concept of rehabilitation and progression to independence at the highest level. Please write a letter to the manager of the clinic (as high as you need to) and cc any others at a higher level (regional? national?) if appropriate. Mention previous experiences (positive), current experiences, and your expectations. You've done a great job here. Please switch to another PT place. It's not worth wasting time or valuable healing time.

    Kristin, ultrarunner, PT, approaching 40y/o. ;), Oregon

  3. Just after posting this, I had a good discussion with my therapist, basically telling him I wasn't being challenged and being worked in therapy. The solution we have agreed on is that I will do my therapy at home and only come in to the gym once a week. I am very motivated and work hard at home so I am happy with this. I did call the parent company and let them know that they have a bunch of slackers in one of their satelite offices. Hopefully someone will go in and do some observation to see for themselves.