Part 1: Addressing Back Perceptions from a New Grad PT

In Part 1, we will see a perspective about addressing back perceptions from a new grad physical therapist. Part 2 will show the progression of that perspective a year later from the same new grad PT. Enjoy!

“Don’t do that, you’ll hurt your back”
Our backs are actually a lot stronger than we give them credit for. But we wouldn’t know it considering how often we hear about someone having back pain. Often, we are painted the picture of how people are given painkillers, injections, or surgery for their backs. We also hear of how much protection it needs. From equipment, creams and medicines, to hearing that ours back will fall out of place if we move the wrong way, we would think our spines were made of glass. There’s a lot of misinformation that’s been ingrained into our heads for years. Sometimes, these fearful thoughts can be the biggest challenge in treating someone with back pain, as we will only move as far as we’re confident enough to go.

As Physical Therapists, we uniquely evaluate an individual to determine what areas need to be addressed and what can be improved. We personalize treatments based on a person’s goals. The finish line is always different for each individual. During this process, we also get a view of what the perception of their back is. By discovering what beliefs they have about themselves, we can tie that into what movements they are averse to. It’s important to not only understand what physiologically is happening with the body, but also psychologically.

The trickiest part is to dispel myths and self-limiting beliefs.
“The MRI said the pain is from a degenerative disc.”
“They said my posture is causing my pain.”
“I was told my spine is out of alignment.”
“My back hurts because my core is weak.”

In addressing these misconceptions, we can place the control back in the patient’s hands. Instead of having patients feel like their anatomy is what’s limiting them, we can teach the idea that their movements and behaviors can lead to improvements. Teaching them their backs shouldn’t hold them back can create an opportunity to trust us and themselves.

We can tell somebody how fragile their spine isn’t, but you won’t see a change until you can prove it. Education can only be cemented by witnessing one’s own accomplishments. By setting up experiences that will both challenge and improve them, a person’s trust in what they can do will grow. For example, a thousand pelvic tilts won’t have the same impact on someone’s confidence as picking something heavy up off the ground. These experiences can change the way they view themselves.

Facing someone’s doubts head on can remove the biggest barrier to moving and feeling better. The role of the Physical Therapist is to find someone’s limitations to move, and rid of them using a combination of using our hands, words, exercise and experiences. We shouldn’t overlook how powerful words and experience can be, especially for those with back pain. By utilizing the strength of perception and understanding the power of misconception, we can ensure what we have done with our hands and their movements is effective. Physical therapy should not be about telling someone everything that could be wrong with their backs. It’s about proving to them that they’re not broken.

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