My confessions as a Physical therapist
I used to put people in movement prison too. I used to tell people they needed to protect themselves before they did a particular movement. I used to tell them that if they just contracted their core muscles, in the “right way,” with all of their day to day activities, they would have a “natural” back brace.
I used to tell patients that if they didn’t sit up straight more often their backs would degenerate. That if they ran too much, their knees would deteriorate.
I pulled people from sport as they cried on my table. I told young girls that their hips were wide and that’s why they had more knee pain and injury. I told adult women that having babies meant their joints were unstable, the equivalent of telling someone their body isn’t enough.
On a daily basis, I managed to show people how their bodies were broken and falling apart and that they needed me to save them. I took agency from girls, autonomy from women, and joy from people, because that is what school taught me.
What utter f*cking nonsense all of that was.
I’m not proud of the people I scared. I’m sure it prolonged pain experiences, decreased activity levels, and led to psychological and physical distress in ways that I cannot imagine.
As I look back on all of this, I am haunted by the harm that I am certain I caused.
I reflect on the pain a man felt as I vigorously tried to “work out” the scar tissue on his inflamed and irritated achilles. I recall the agony a woman experienced as I scraped her iliotibial band and, dare I say it, PLUNGED it with a plunger.
All of this, was shit I learned in school and on the job from other providers, mentors.
Now, I know more about how pain works, how humans work, and the importance of a holistic approach to a person’s care, and I feel a sense of hope, but it doesn’t come without challenges.
I see the harm that has been caused by the biomedical system and other healthcare practitioners in every aspect of my life and it’s exhausting.
What is even more exhausting, is that now people don’t believe me. They don’t believe me because biomedical jargon is pervasive in our culture and if one provider can’t “fix” you, then you’re on to the next.
The problem is that most people don’t inherently have “movement optimism.” They have no concept of how injury works, how pain works, how complicated it is and yet how simple it can be to treat.
They’re afraid. Afraid of what will happen to their body, what it will mean for their future. Afraid of what pain means.
I get it. I was there. I was afraid of pain and what it meant too. And it IS scary when you don’t know.
Meanwhile though, people struggle to live fully in their present because of their pain. They feel fragile, instead of feeling robust and sturdy and adaptable and strong.
After all, it’s easier to believe a clinician who says that they can fix your problem than a clinician who says that YOU can fix your problem.
But let me ask you this, do you want to be kindling to a fire? Or do you want to be the fire?