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Monday Medical: 7 myths about physical therapy

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

If you’ve always thought that physical therapists just help athletes and older patients, or worry that physical therapy is painful, then read on.

Alyssa Hornbrook, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs who also holds a doctorate of physical therapy, dispels common myths about physical therapy, below.

Myth 1: Physical therapists are the same as personal trainers.

While both may create workout programs that have you sweating at home, physical therapists are required to have years of education and specialized training. Many have a doctorate in the field and have advanced education in biomechanics, neuroscience and pharmacology.



“It makes us movement and functional mobility specialists,” Hornbrook said.

Myth 2: Physical therapists only treat athletes or older people.

Physical therapists treat anyone from newborn babies to elderly patients with issues such as injuries, surgical procedures, incontinence, concussions, open wounds, cancer, neurologic diseases and more.



The goal is often the same: helping people do the things they love.

“People don’t come to physical therapy because they have pain — they come because pain has interfered with what they want to do in life,” Hornbrook said. “Whether they want to get back to going on walks, playing with their grandkids, running marathons, working on motorcycles, doing their jobs, hiking, biking or skiing — all of those goals are equally important to us.”

Myth 3: All physical therapists are the same.

Not only do physical therapists have different personalities, they often have different specialties, such as hospital inpatient, pediatric, neonatal, neurological, geriatrics, home care, vestibular, pelvic health, oncology, sports, wound care and cardiovascular. Don’t hesitate to look for a physical therapist that has training specific to your issue.

Myth 4: Physical therapy is going to hurt.

While you may feel some soreness after a session, physical therapy should not cause intense pain. If you experience pain, talk to your physical therapist about modifications.

But don’t expect physical therapy to be easy.

“I always tell my patients that physical therapy should not be the easiest part of their week,” Hornbrook said. “The basic goal of any therapy is introducing new progressive loads to your body slowly, so your body can learn and change. That could look like a walking program, a heavy weight lifting program or a robust plyometric program.”

Myth 5: I can do all my physical therapy at home.

A good home program is critical to success; in fact, patients spend more time on their home exercises than at their physical therapist’s office. But in-person sessions are still important.

“We’re seeing you from this objective perspective with all of our education behind us,” Hornbrook said. “And we’re progressively challenging you and making sure it’s done right.”

Myth 6: Physical therapy is expensive.

While physical therapy does have a cost, research has shown it may help you prevent larger costs down the road, especially if you start care soon after the onset of injury.

“We’re teaching you how to use your body even though it has pain and teaching you how to adapt your life for a little until it starts to feel better,” Hornbrook said.

Myth 7: My physical therapist should fix me.

While a physical therapist can play a critical role in your health, the goal is to empower patients.

“I don’t want my patients to rely on me to fix them,” Hornbrook said. “I want them to soak up the education I can give, so they can successfully move and learn their own bodies.

“I love getting to know all my patients, helping them get back to their goals, and then discharging them — that is the best part.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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