I love kids. I’m fond of children for many reasons, but my professional self is always amazed by how they move. A child can easily climb onto a chair taller than they are or sit in a deep squat for a long while before taking off into a full sprint. I’m a physiotherapist, so it may not be surprising that I admire how fluidly children move. But let me ask this question: When do adults cease to move like children?
I recently moved to a new place and while meeting new people I have been asked: What does a physiotherapist do? The stock answer is that a physiotherapist helps people recover from injuries and helps restore movement and quality of life to their patients.
Another way to explain what physiotherapy can do for someone is using the analogy of the body as a car. Full disclosure here: I know very little about cars. What I do know is that when my car makes funny sounds or I feel like the car is pulling a bit to one side or just doesn’t feel right to me, I bring the car to a mechanic. I want to know what can be done to get my car operating smoothly again. Physiotherapists are like mechanics for the body.
How many people have some low-level physical problems that may not stop them from doing what they like, but are nagging and limit their enjoyment of life? Sure, physiotherapy will help those with distinct injuries, but it can also be helpful for clearing up small symptoms before they turn into larger issues. Just as a mechanic would say that keeping the fluids topped up and the oil changed will make for a smoother running engine and help prevent bigger fixes, a physiotherapist can help patients learn to move in a way that prevents serious injury.
Many of my patients don’t have a distinct injury that happened during a trauma, fall or wrenching motion, but have simply developed pain over time without any discernible precipitating factors.
Is your lower back sore at times when lifting? Do your neck or shoulders feel tired and achy, perhaps from sitting all day at work? Do you feel you aren’t mobile enough to do meaningful activities or exercise as well as you would like? Do you long to move as easily as children do?
You aren’t alone in having these sorts of concerns, and these are problems physiotherapy can help solve.
It has been said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, but wisdom is the ability to put things back together. A physiotherapist has a global understanding of not just the parts of the body, but how each part contributes to the whole. In addition to assessing posture and movement, a physiotherapist will talk with a patient to determine what factors are causing the body to function in ways that are uncomfortable, painful, sore or stiff.
Most often the treatment plan will include a combination of hands-on movements that allow the therapist to increase mobility in joints and muscles, and exercises expertly prescribed to retrain the body to move properly. A physiotherapist uses their wisdom to teach what you should and shouldn’t do in daily life and exercise so that the body operates the way it is supposed to.
The body is meant to move: To dance slowly and suavely, to bend and touch toes, to reach up and touch the sky, to squat to the floor and lift up a box, to run freely and flawlessly as children do.
A physiotherapist can help tune up your body to get the most mileage and smoothest ride out of a wonderful machine designed to work effortlessly and efficiently, allowing you to move about and enjoy the beautiful world around you.
Nathan King is a physiotherapist with advanced certifications in sports and orthopaedics. He believes in taking a teaching approach to therapy by empowering patients to understand their bodies. He works for Lifemark in Halifax, NS.