Physical therapists offer function-focused treatment while teaching |

Physical therapists offer function-focused treatment while teaching

Blythe Terrell

— Johnson & Johnson Physical Therapy treats athletes training for the Olympics and athletes training for the next game against Palisade. It treats dancers who train at Juilliard and dancers who train at Perry-Mansfield. It treats people who fly in from Chicago and people who live on Lincoln Avenue.

The important thing is not whom Johnson & Johnson treats, but how it treats them, co-owner Vicky Johnson said.

Vicky and her husband, Gregg Johnson, run the physical therapy center in western Steamboat Springs. The two train others nationally and internationally, and their clinic is one of 18 in the country with an orthopedic fellowship program credentialed by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Their fellows and interns come from Chicago, Baltimore and Boston to learn.

“Arguably, we have one of the greatest therapists in the nation here in Gregg Johnson, and he’s in Steamboat,” senior faculty member Dean Hazama said. “And it’s amazing.”

A function philosophy

Vicky and Gregg Johnson started their first private practice in 1978 in Marin County, Calif. As they developed in their field, each created new approaches to physical therapies and started teaching those methods. Throughout 15 years, the two created eight courses, which became the Functional Manual Therapy approach.

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They founded the Institute of Physical Art in 1978 to teach those courses. They came to Steamboat Springs in 1994, wanting to raise sons Ryan and Tyler in a small town.

“We were going to come here and slow down, we thought, but we realized we had a passion for teaching and a passion for passing it on,” Vicky Johnson said.

The pair opened their Steamboat practice that year and then steadily built the fellowship program, moving from accepting one fellow at a time to three.

A key to their physical therapy philosophy, Vicky Johnson said, is returning people’s bodies to maximum function. Johnson & Johnson aims to ease pain while allowing people to do the activities they always have.

“We focus on function first,” Vicky Johnson said. “Usually when you focus on function, these things that are causing pain begin to be resolved.”

Their three fellows are sold on the idea.

Steve Moxey came to Steamboat to train as a fellow at the institute. After using the Johnsons’ methods, he ran a hilly race. Moxey, who had less than a week to acclimate to the altitude, improved his time and landed in the top 10.

Fellow Katie Choate flew her dad in from Chicago for treatment. His neck pain was so bad, she said, he thought he would have to retire. Months later, he’s healthy and working.

Fellow April Oury, who runs two practices in Chicago and commutes back and forth, also sang the praises of the Johnsons’ treatment.

“I’ve had back pain since I was 10, and I don’t have

back pain anymore,” she said. “There’s nothing I can’t do from a functional standpoint: ski, run, ride horses.”

A family feel

Johnson & Johnson operates in a small but open building on Lincoln Avenue. A large office area is devoted to the institute, and the physical therapy area consists of an open room and a couple of smaller exam rooms.

Gregg Johnson spent part of a late October day wandering the area, checking in on patients, fellows and the three student interns. He moved with an air of peace, speaking in easy tones with patients.

“With you being a week in Mexico, we’ve got to work on that daily – or else you can’t go,” Johnson joked to a patient with a shoulder problem. “Is that a deal?”

“What have his symptoms been?” he asked Oury, who then described a patient’s rib problem.

“How does that feel? Can you feel some muscles working?” he asked a woman as she lifted her legs on a mat.

“Feel better today?” he asked her.

“I feel better than when I came in,” she replied.

“Good,” Johnson replied. “That is the goal.”

Johnson’s staff members and students watched him carefully, taking in his advice and explaining their patients’ maladies carefully. Johnson & Johnson does preventive care (Oury runs an abdominal stabilization class twice a week) but often sees the most complex or acute cases.

The physical therapists work closely with doctors and sometimes see patients directly, without a referral.

“The human system is really complex,” Johnson said. “It takes many avenues of approach to solve the problem.”

The Johnson & Johnson staff ate lunch together that afternoon in the break room, talking and laughing. The top faculty members handpick fellows. The program is selective, Vicky Johnson said.

“They have to demonstrate not only that you have the intention to learn at a high level; you have to have an interest in passing it on,” she said. The Johnsons expect their students to share the knowledge they gain.

Fellows also are required to do community service. Johnson & Johnson provides care at Perry-Mansfield and Steamboat Springs High School, and staff members plan to work with the Winter Sports Club this year.

The fellows and interns said they appreciated being able to work under the Johnsons’ tutelage, though it could be intimidating.

“One beautiful thing Gregg said in the first month. : ‘April, we know your faults, and we still wanted you here,'” Oury said.

Bringing respect

Over the years, Vicky Johnson said, physical therapy has moved from a bachelor’s degree to a graduate degree. She said she expects most physical therapists to eventually have doctorates.

She and Gregg said they travel the world, teaching and learning.

“We’ve found that in the physical therapy world, the clinic has put Steamboat on the map,” Gregg Johnson said.

They’ve drawn in not only their staff – Hazama, a Los Angeles native, now is a die-hard outdoorsman – but others around the country.

It’s been a privilege, the Johnsons said.

“We’ve been able to be great ambassadors for Steamboat,” Gregg Johnson said.