“Educate your physical therapy patients” was the message my fellow classmates and I heard as we polished our healthcare skills in the outstanding physical therapy program at UConn.

30 years later I know the truth is this: My physical therapy patients teaches ME something every day, as long as I’m truly listening…with my ears, eyes, hands and heart.

What’s the most important message I learned from my rehabilitation patients this week?  Their lifestyle matters.

The professional physical therapist and certified athletic trainer in me is trained to help my patients restore important skills such as muscle strength, joint range of motion, flexibility, balance, endurance and coordination.  That all sounds important to me but those same skills are not always a top priority for my patients.

I learned a valuable lesson this week, thanks to my awesome physical therapy patients.

I had four high level patients from completely different sports all tell me, in various ways; “I want my lifestyle back!”  Their passion and pain was raw and honest.  I would have been a fool to not hear their pleas.

What Were My Physical Therapy Patients Really Saying?

My patients were telling me: ‘Instead of you focussing on strength numbers, fancy orthopedic tests and big medical words, just help me get back to doing what makes me happy!’  It’s just that simple.  Their words and body language made it clear:

“Stop trying to make me move like the perfect athlete.  Instead, help me get back to the same active lifestyle which made me excited to jump out of bed every day!”

How cool is it that we, as trusted partners of those in pain and body limitations, have the ability to restore someone’s lifestyle?!  That role is so important to those in our care.  As a physical therapis or athletic trainer, it’s our job to listen to them and respond accordingly.

My Take Home Points

    • People need to live the lifestyle which makes them happy and it’s my job to help that happen.
    • Ask those in pain better questions, then shutup and listen.
    • Teach others how to listen to their body.  Our amazing bodies are much smarter than we think.

To my patients, thank you.