The physical therapy profession is incorrectly characterized under the generalized label “rehabilitation.” Denver physical therapist Patrick Donovan is eager to create a wider narrative – one that focuses on physical therapy’s overall ability to change lives by helping people move better.
“When it comes down to it, physical therapy is all about making experiences come true. It’s about making it possible for people to live and experience life to the fullest,” said Donovan, owner of Heather Lane Physical Therapy in Denver. “Movement and the overall ability to live, work, and play without restriction– is at the center of life’s greatest experiences.”
With October being National Physical Therapy Month, Donovan and other physical therapists across the country are highlighting the wide-range of physical therapists’ ability. “We have the tools, education, and experience to improve experiences for people in all stages in life.”
Physical therapists are highly educated and credentialed medical professionals who help decrease pain and maintain the ability to move optimally. The most convincing part is that physical therapists help people do this without the need for unnecessary surgery or prescription medication.
“This includes people who are hurt, injured or who have had surgery, of course,” Donovan said. “But, this also includes athletes looking to improve performance, older adults looking to remain active and independent, women who are pregnant … all the way to people who simply just want to be healthier and less sedentary so they can better enjoy the things they love.”
While muscle strength, cardio health, balance and flexibility are critical for maintaining functional abilities throughout life (i.e., walking, climbing stairs, reaching), the ability to move optimally and be active, Donovan says, is something that can equally benefit the body, the mind and the soul.
The Body – It’s no secret that being active and exercising regularly can benefit the body in countless ways, from improving cardiovascular health to reducing the incidence of chronic disease. Under the stress of pain or disability, individualized exercise programs designed by a physical therapist can move people out of pain and into action.
The Mind – Multiple studies have shown that regular exercise can sharpen mental acuity and improve memory. But for those with mild cognitive impairments, exercise programs help slow this rate of decline. For instance, a patient with a recent stroke will have a much different cognitive-based treatment plan than a patient with Parkinson’s. Every specific exercise prescription attends to patients’ very unique mental needs.
The Soul – Research has also shown that those who exercise regularly tend to be happier and more social than those who live a sedentary lifestyle. Experiencing life to the fullest means making meaningful social connections. Often times this happens during exercise, whether it’s rock climbing or hiking a Front Range trail. Engaging in exercise makes you more likely to explore new places and try new things.
“The greatest joy I get from being a physical therapist is helping people get to a physical, mental, or emotional place in their life that they thought was unattainable,” Donovan said. “Whether it’s helping a client complete their first 5K or making sure they can still pick up their grandkids, my job as a PT is to help people experience life to the fullest – becoming the greatest possible version of themselves – all through better, more optimal movement.”