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Physical Therapy: Choose Wisely

Finding the right physical therapy regimen is the first step to feeling better

I never longed to be a Marine. Probably it was that aversion to physical punishment that kept me from physical therapy, too. The prospect of hurting so I could eventually feel better holds little appeal. For years, physicians and family have told me that I’d likely benefit from PT, but I’ve resisted — until now.

See also: 7 pain-fighting foods.

Richard Cohen

Richard M. Cohen was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 30 years ago. — Courtesy Richard M. Cohen

Now, after multiple surgeries, my back is so weak that I can barely walk. My doctors have made it clear that my only hope of regaining strength is an intense physical therapy regimen. And so my days of denial have ended, at least on this front.

As with any practicing hypocrite, I became an instant convert, deeply committed to challenging myself with the most rigorous PT program I could find.

Of course, I had no idea where to look. I talked to friends, only to learn that each of them knew the perfect person. Their shoulders — or their knees — do not hurt anymore. What more proof could I want?

But I decided to play it safe. I called and made an appointment at a highly regarded rehab facility about 20 minutes from my home. They needed a prescription and an insurance card, and the deal was done. The grounds themselves were magnificent, with quiet roads leading to a series of buildings that provide hospital-based and outpatient services. I arrived and walked down a long corridor, passing patients on canes and walkers and in wheelchairs, all casualties of neurological or other conditions.

My hopes were high for about 10 minutes, before Nurse Ratched set out to evaluate my condition. She began by simply watching me walk. She kept shaking her head. “You’re a danger to yourself, even with the cane. You look like you’re going to fall,” she announced. “You need a walker.”

“I haven’t fallen yet, and I’ve used a cane for years,” I replied. Already I disliked her.

Next we ran some simple tests: She had me walk a course she had laid out in the large room. She had me sit in a standard chair and stand — five times. “You’re failing every challenge I’ve given you,” she announced soon enough.

Next: How to talk to a patient. >>

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