Hannah Mullaney, DPT
The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is prevention is worth a pound of recovery” is so true, but a little cliché. In the physical therapy world, one might spice it up saying, “sets and reps of rotator cuff exercises are worth a stabilized shoulder.” I would like to propose that physical therapy plays an important role in two things: staving off undesirable injuries and saving people money.
People commonly invest for the future. Adults put money in a 401k. Baseball teams go to spring training. Students study for tests. Better outcomes stem from steady, diligent preparation, right? The same goes with our health. There are things we can each do to prevent future pain and injury. Preventative medicine is not usually at the forefront of someone’s mind, because nothing has happened yet. People feel fine. Reactive medicine – after the fact treatment – happens when people experience something negative and then are motivated to do something about it. That’s more common. Nonetheless, the hard work often reaps bountiful awards, such as playing with the grandkids, summer adventures, and feeling safe walking around the store. Physical therapy is an investment in health.
I am not claiming that physical therapy is a guarantee “get out of life injury-free” card, but it can play an impactful role in preventing injury. For example, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears are common in athletes, especially female athletes. Physical therapy ACL tear prevention programs helped to lower the ACL injury rates by 41%.1 Additionally, a study in Finland found that physical therapy was just as effective for nontraumatic rotator cuff tears as surgery.2 Therefore, conservative treatment is the go-to option for people with this condition. Going through surgery and rehab is a long, expensive process, costing people cash, time from work, and insurance money. Physical therapy is a slow, gradual, preventative process that costs money up front, but may be able to save people the deep chunks of change that come from surgery.
Most people know that taking care of one’s health matters. Physical therapy isn’t the only way to do that. Dental health, mental health, and kidney health all contribute to someone’s overall well-being. When it comes to musculoskeletal issues, physical therapists can lead people in the right direction. Exercise, the primary tool used by PTs, has been shown repeatedly to help issues like cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, diabetes, chronic pain, to name a few. Not to mention, when we do it right, movement can be fun and functional – improving our daily lives.
Physical therapy isn’t magical. Similar to Harry Potter’s wand, the Babe Ruth bat that hits home-runs, or George Harrison’s guitar, physical therapy only works when we do. The participants do all the work. Physical therapists are experts in human movement, and they guide and teach people how to move their bodies well. They can teach people tricks and tips to take care of themselves. They can use manual techniques that require specialized training to mobilize the muscles and bones. The majority of the effectiveness from physical therapy comes from patients following through and taking charge of their health.
The choice belongs to each one of us. What are we going to do to take care of our health for the present and the future?
1. Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Tear. American Physical Therapy Association. https://www.moveforwardpt.com/SymptomsConditionsDetail.aspx?cid=d8e73ca8-71f4-48a7-92f8-675bca38232c. Published September 6, 2011. Accessed April 15, 2019.
2. Physical Therapy As Effective As Surgery for Rotator Cuff Tears. http://www.apta.org/PTinMotion/NewsNow/2014/3/12/RotatorCuffTears/?blogid=10737418615. Accessed April 15, 2019.