Reflecting On My Years in Physical Therapy

Reflecting On My Years in Physical Therapy

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The following reflection on my years in physical therapy contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.

Physical therapy (PT), the term likely conjures up much emotion. Annoyance over needing to go to PT, forcing you to miss more leisurely activities like watching TV or hanging out with a friend. Irritability as your physical therapist tests your pain limits through intense stretching. Frustration caused by the challenges encountered during a session, whether losing your balance mid exercise and needing to reset yourself or hearing your therapist tell you, “Heel, toe” as you already work hard to walk across the room landing each step heel, toe.

Those examples might sound quite specific. There stands a good reason for that. They all come from my firsthand experiences with physical therapy. Once I started walking at three years old my parents signed me up for preschool. Mainly so I could receive PT for my cerebral palsy (CP). I would go on to receive physical therapy at minimum once a week until I entered college at 18 years old.

Despite the aforementioned negative sentiments, I also appreciated the need for therapy. Adopting an attitude similar to how I viewed homework. Neither homework nor PT excited me, but I pushed forward and did my best anyway.

Interestingly enough as the years continued to pass, my appreciation for PT only grew. Reflecting on my decade-and-a-half in physical therapy, I realized how PT helped me not only physically but prepared me to succeed in life. Insights I wish to share with you, hoping to provide a more positive outlook on the treatment option.

First though, a disclaimer.

Benefiting from physical therapy begins with finding the right physical therapist. Talking to my peers in the CP community I heard a few horror stories about physical therapists. Experiences bad enough to make someone never want to encounter physical therapy again. If you or your loved one falls into this category, I hope my post today will encourage you to try another therapist because I can attest to the fact good physical therapists exist.

Starting Point

To state physical therapy has prepared me to succeed in life requires you and I to first define what success means. Ironically, knowing to define what success means represents the first way PT prepared me to succeed. Physical therapy involved discussing with my therapist every few months what I wanted to achieve, albeit falling less or ascending and descending stairs in a certain time.

Through getting me to focus on setting goals PT by default equipped me with the tools to measure success rate. Such goal setting became engrained in my head. So, at 28 years old when I completed my first 5K, finishing dead last, temptation to feel unsuccessful emerged. Yet thanks in-part to the mindset I developed in PT to define what success looks like to me, I resisted the tempting pity party.

Instead, I re-focused and identified my true competition, myself. Correcting my mentality allowed me to concentrate on my own performance. Eventually leading me to accolades like a personal best 5K time of nine minutes better than my first 5K, completing two FULL marathons, and receiving an invite from an Air Force Marathon ambassador to compete in one of the 2023 Air Force Marathon events. All achievements I doubt I obtain without the preparation physical therapy gave me.

2023 Air Force Marathon ambassador Michael Mannozzi and myself after completing the half marathon portion of the Air Force Marathon event.

Cornerstone to Construction

Getting to the point where I could improve my 5K time by almost 10 minutes or walk 26.2 miles to become a marathoner happened because physical therapy solidified in me the cornerstone to construction. Let me make clear, I know hardly anything about construction. Just the most basic of the basics, like how profoundly essential the foundation of a building is.

To clarify, in this metaphor I am the building and physical therapy built my foundation. A foundation constructed from mainly exercise and self-awareness. See, although, I had not undergone an official physical therapy session in a decade-and-a-half, I still do many exercises I did while in PT growing up. These exercises enable me to keep my ankles loose, maintain the range of motion in my legs, and improve my balance.

The aforementioned factors mattered greatly in my pursuit to become a marathoner. If my ankle stiffens too much, my walk (or limp) becomes an exaggerated hobble. At which point moving across a room becomes a challenge. Forget walking mile after mile! Similarly, if I stop doing my range of motion exercises, picking my foot or leg up increases in difficulty. Leaving me more prone to tripping and/or falling. The chance that trip turns into a fall enhances exponentially if I am disregarding my balance exercises.    

Obviously, a good physical therapist tailors PT to meet an individual client’s needs and personality. Therefore, the exercises I learned in PT which established my foundation, may not work best for you or your loved one. Still, if curiosity has you wondering about my exercise regimen, check out the following playlist featuring my different exercise routines.

Building On the Construction Metaphor

To expand upon the construction metaphor, the building’s story does not end once the construction completes. In fact, the story only begins. Daily use will lead to the need for maintenance. The same applies to living with cerebral palsy. Daily life also necessitates regular maintenance.      

For example, change in temperatures could increase spasticity. Or a long day leaves you dragging your foot when taking a step. Physical therapy equipped me to handle such situations in different ways. For one, a decade-and-a-half of weekly PT honed my self-awareness with my body. If I notice I am holding my heel off the ground when sitting or standing, I recognize that as a sign my hamstrings are too tight, and I should stretch.

Additionally, weekly physical therapy engrained in me consistency. A lesson strongly reinforced in me back in early 2014. A low point in my physical health.

See, various elements clashed stifling my motivation. Ultimately, I ended up going 112 days without exercising. Almost four months! My mobility lessened. I encountered new aches and pains. The physical unrest impacted my ability to concentrate mentally. An experience I detail in chapter four, “Direction Amidst Struggles” of my memoir Slow and Cerebral. I describe the book as a memoir about accomplishing the “unreasonable.” For me, that meant not letting my cerebral palsy stop me from becoming a marathoner. Again, an accomplishment I doubt possible without my physical therapy experiences. I truly believe the statement below.

Physical therapy prepared me to succeed!

Once again, PT has done this by teaching me to define what success looks like, establish a foundation for me to care for myself through exercise, and engraining in me the importance of consistency. How do my PT experiences compare to yours? Did you come to appreciate physical therapy more over time? Did PT help you in a way different from what I shared today? Please do leave your insights in the comments. Together we can create a more positive outlook surrounding PT.

Finally, on a selfish note, if what I mentioned about my first 5K experience, 112-day stretch without exercise, or marathon journey in general interests you, checkout Slow and Cerebral.

By diving into thorough details, I hope to help you conquer the “unreasonable” in your own life. No matter what that may look like, do remember. Don’t blend in. Blend out!


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2 responses on “Reflecting On My Years in Physical Therapy

  1. Jackie Wiesenthal

    You continue to amaze me!!!! I’m going to forward this post to a friend who was a PT, but needed to retire young on disability, due to her Parkinson’s diagnosis.
    Ron & I will be spending January & February in Florida….your hot pink ZACH FENELL tshirt will be joining us, spreading your “just move” concept….Happy Holidays,Jackie

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