So much of physical therapy is focused on the physical aspects of recovery that it’s easy to forget how emotional components fit into the equation. Much of the doctor-patient exchange is centered around addressing key areas where the body is failing. But when you look at the journey back from an injury, the biomechanical aspects are just one small part of the story. There’s a minefield of emotions involved in recovery, and learning to navigate them is almost more integral to the process than anything physical.
Anxiety, fear, pain, and even depression are common while patients are recovering. When you have a fundamental aspect of daily life removed from your routine, it can be crippling. You often fail to realize how important your health is until you spend every day wondering if you’ll ever be back to normal again. It’s similar to being sick. When you’re struggling with a bad cold or virus, you gain perspective on what it’s like to be completely healthy. But unlike a cold, which lasts just a few days, an injury may persist for months, years, or even the rest of your life. It’s very discouraging, but helping patients battle that discouragement is a massive part of what physical therapists do.
A physical therapist deals with a wide range of emotions, and we continuously employ different skills to help with the psychological aspects of recovery. Some days, a patient is in pain, and they’re angry. It’s up to us to meet them where they are at and help them push through their struggles. From there, the recovery process becomes focused on clear communication with the patient. We need to show them the deficiencies we see, help identify their rehab goals, and give an objective evaluation. In some instances, a patient may have unrealistic expectations, and we have to bring the reality of the situation to them. In other cases, the patient may not aim high enough, and we need to show them how much they’re capable of. Once we have that conversation about mutual expectations, it’s time to get to work and begin the physical rehab. But that doesn’t mean the emotional journey stops, and we’re equipped for that.
“As physical therapists, we’re always walking the line between motivation and grace.”
Empathy is one of the best ways to approach some of the emotional battles our patients face, but that’s only one tool we use. As physical therapists, we’re always walking the line between motivation and grace. It’s a challenge because every patient is different. What works for a college student coming back from knee surgery isn’t going to work for a retiree struggling with sciatica. Each patient requires a customized approach to get the most out of their rehab. But even with the best-laid rehab plan, unique challenges can cause setbacks, requiring us to adjust accordingly.
When our therapists hit a wall with a patient, we focus on progression. Physical therapy is about getting healthier than you were when you walked in. Even if there are emotional or physical complications, we can always show the progression of where the patient was at day one and how far they’ve come since their original visit.
Emotional battles are part of the process, and they cannot be ignored. Luckily, our therapists at In Motion O.C. pour just as much of their hearts into their jobs as they do knowledge. It has transformed the lives of thousands of patients, and we look forward to doing the same for thousands more.