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Brett Sears

Hocus Pocus Physical Therapy

By November 12, 2012

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I recently was at a function at my child's school and was speaking with a few parents about psychotherapy. This sort of therapy can be very helpful for many people. The conversation that I was having was a bit in jest, and it centered around not starting psychotherapy as it would lead to multiple visits to the therapist, which could be quite expensive and time consuming. (Plus, who knows what sort of skeletons would come out of some folk's closets. Best to just keep the closet closed...)

A person that was in on the conversation said to me that physical therapy is like that too. Your physical therapist can find something wrong with you and then convince you that you need to come to the clinic for multiple visits to make it right.

Uggh. Is this what my profession looks like? A lot of hocus pocus and mystery to get patients into the clinic. I hope not.

Your physical therapist is trained to evaluate and assess your body's systems to help determine the cause of your pain or functional limitation. He or she can then prescribe treatments to change the problem areas to decrease pain and improve your ability to move around.

One of the most important aspects of physical therapy is patient education. I always teach my patients how to self-assess, and I show them ways to self-manage their situation. While I like having patients come into the clinic, it is always best to have the patient leave the clinc with the knowledge and ability to self-treat.

Sure, there are some physical therapists who do some mysterious treatments that may not be proven to be very effective. Things like visceral manipulation or laser therapy sound neat and look cool, but the published data about these treatments might be a little lacking. Even studies on ultrasound, a common physical therapy modality, show that its use is questionable. Does it mean those treatments don't work? Who knows.

Even things like palpation are often called into question in the scientific literature. One study showed that the ability to determine spinal mobility using touch was poor. But therapists (and chiropractors) still do it. And many may palpate spinal mobility and have you return to the clinic multiple times to work on changing your spinal mobility.

The bottom line is that your physical therapist should be able to examine and assess your problem, and he or she should also be able to teach you how to self-assess. That way you can determine how effective your self-care program is. You can visit the clinic on regular intervals to monitor progress and to make changes to your program. You should work with your physical therapist to determine the best treatment approach for your specific problem. And make sure there is no hocus pocus.

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