APTA's vision for physical therapy is "transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience."
How will you embody this vision as a future physical therapist?
"Don't stop moving", I'll never forget that phrase. My martial arts instructor had told me that just prior to my toughest belt examination yet. I remember feeling my injured knee wanting to give out, I remember my battered arms barely holding themselves up. My lower back and hips were sore from constant takedown attempts and slams. Even though my legs were battered and bruised, I knew that being stationary would mean failure. But the words rang in my head nonetheless, "Don't stop moving". I stopped when I realized that my instructor was no longer attacking my hips to engage in ground-fighting, but was instead lifting my arms up to remove by battered red belt and to put on that crisp, fresh black belt. The exam was about showing that no matter how difficult the situation, no matter how much pain I'd be in, my knowledge of technique and desire to improve would persevere. All of the days undergoing physical therapy, nursing my battered knee and shoulders paid off. I knew that the journey towards achieving my goals means that no matter what the circumstance, giving up or failure were NOT options. After countless hours shadowing Physical Therapists, it dawned upon me - as physical therapists, we don't just heal injuries, we teach people how to move better and live pain-free lives. Ultimately, that is the core goal of any patient's treatment, a pain-free and happy life.
Witnessing my father wince after receiving his second epidural shot for a herniated lumbar disc, pushed me to understand the human body more. Working as a car mechanic, his back has given out countless times, but even in intense pain he continued working. However, after collapsing while getting out of his car after coming to work, my mother and I realized he needed treatment. It was watching my father undergo physical therapy that truly made me understand the beauty of movement. By retraining his back muscles and providing exercises to help strengthen both his abdomen and his lumbar erectors, he was able to stand up straighter and sit with less pain. Although he lifted heavy weights almost every day, my father had underdeveloped muscular groups and thus developed imbalances in his back. Watching my father struggle through pain during treatments such as massages, electrical stimulation, and various other exercises, I realized just how important proper therapy was. It was not enough to simply administer a massage or show an exercise, my father needed to learn how to properly work with his injury. He understands that he has to lift things better now or else risk injuring his back again. He comes home in pain, but can do the things he loves, which at the end of the day is most important. Physical Therapy allowed him to not only work, but live. I was only able to truly understand this through my immersion in hospitals and alongside Physical Therapists.
As Physical Therapists, we enable people to continue moving and more importantly moving pain free and productively. One of my first and most memorable experiences with this concept came during my time as a Physical Therapy Volunteer in Coney Island Hospital. As I was cleaning the rehabilitation gym, I came across an older man in his late 50's who was an amputee and had just finished gait training. We shared smiles and soon after started a friendly conversation which turned into one of my inspirations for being a Physical Therapist. He told me he lost his leg in the wars in Eastern Europe, but never received a prosthetic. He was active as a young man and joined the military when he was of age. However, after he lost his leg, he fell into a depression which he was stuck in for many years. So, I proceeded to ask him what his motivation was for getting a prosthetic so late in his life. Surely, he had adapted his life to his wheelchair; he had started a family lived a fairly productive life. He looked me in the eye and said with a proud smile, "My granddaughter". It seemed cliché almost. However, as we continued our conversation, I realized just how much this man needed mobility. His granddaughter was getting older and needed a grandfather. He told me that he wanted to help teach his granddaughter how to ride a bike, to dance with her, to be the support system she needed. That was when I realized what movement truly meant. As physical therapists we give people more than just pain-free mobility, we give them their lifestyle back. Just like that older man, we give people the ability to once again be free.
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