Physical Therapy: Is It for Everyone?

When I started seeing a physical therapist for my knee last fall, it wasn’t my first time there — I’d already been going for my TMJ pretty frequently. However, when I went for the knee, I saw someone new, and he was very interested in not just how my knee moved and worked, but how everything surrounding it — and affected by it — moved as well.

We didn’t just work on strengthening the muscles supporting my bad (well, worse) knee, but also worked on changing some of my movement patterns in both legs to make sure I was using all the right muscles and keeping the joint as protected as possible. And the exercises we use to do that? They work far more than just a few muscles in my leg.

Since then, I’ve learned a whole lot about how different muscles and tendons and such work together, as well as the fact that it’s not just about strengthening stuff — flexibility and stability are huge (huge!) factors in mobility, too.

physical therapy

My Experience With Functional Motion Testing

During my recent trip to Vail, I had a chance to work with some experts from both Vail Vitality Center and Howard Head Sports Medicine to see how I scored on a few moves from the Functional Movement Screening (FMS), which is used by many personal training professionals to determine a client’s strengths and weaknesses, and the Vail Sport Test, which Howard Head Sports Medicine uses to determine whether a patient (which, in their case, is often a professional or elite athlete) is ready to go back to practice or competition. Much of what I learned was not a huge surprise — my flexibility, especially in certain areas (ankles and upper thoracic), was pretty limited, but my overall strength was pretty good.

However, when it came to strength, several tests showed that the strength on my bad leg was actually greater than on my good leg, likely because, when I do my physical therapy work, I focus a lot on the bad one and sometimes go through the movements on the other. But, even with that strength, that left leg was really weak when stability and flexibility were factored in.

What’s That Mean for You?

A theme that came up numerous times in Vail has come up many times with coaches, trainers and physical therapists I’ve worked with. The thing is, a good physical therapy assessment can benefit just about anyone, even if you aren’t worried about rehabbing an injury. You might feel strong and flexible and fast and invincible, but with a few standard mobility tests (like the Functional Movement Screening or Vail Sport Test), a properly educated trainer or therapist can help you identify areas that could use some work, either to make you faster and stronger, or, perhaps, to help you avoid injury before you even see it coming.

Think about it: Wouldn’t it be better to learn how to strengthen your core properly now rather than end up having to rehab a back injury next year because your abs were strong but your back was weak?

Have you done this type of work with a physical therapist or personal trainer? Did you learn anything surprising about your movements or your body? —Kristen

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  1. Samantha says:

    I have done physical therapy a million times. I’ve broken my ankle- Physical therapy….then had that ankle reconstructed- more physical therapy and then a number of sprains, tears, breaks, dislocations and all the lovely things that come with being a rough and tumble kid plus martial arts as a teen.

    I noticed one trend with all of the same therapists and sessions, I felt like I wasted my time and my money (or parents money in some cases) It was ridiculous I learned nothing accept how to fall down stairs (long story) and use and exercise band.

    Now at 27 I’m trying it again, this time for my knee, and at yet a different location. I’m willing to give it a try, but I better be impressed with it caused right now physical therapy isn’t running high on my scale of helpful services.

  2. Amy says:

    The only catch is that physical therapy is very expensive, and most health insurance policies won’t pay for it without a physician’s referral. Even with my health insurance, I ended up paying over $500 out-of-pocket for two sessions (torn meniscus). And while it was interesting and enlightening that my knee problem was caused by limited hip strength, every single one of the exercises she gave me could all be found on the Beachbody Brazilian Buttlift workout program. No joke.