Physical Therapy For SMA Patients Also Serves As Emotional Therapy

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by Emily Jones |

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Even though physical therapy focuses on the physical state of a patient, it can also act as an emotional relief for some patients. Our patient with SMA, Michael, is not able to get out of his house very much during the week, as he works from home and requires a caregiver to drive him. This limits his social interaction and stimulation, therefore, this could lead to more serious problems, such as depression and other physiological and psychological issues.

Coming into the clinic for physical therapy can help to serve as an outlet not only to physically feel better, but also emotionally improve as well. Even just the change of scenery and new faces can help to decrease stress and other factors that can eventually lead to a disorder such as anxiety. In respects to the physical aspect of physical therapy, the ability to move and change positions, as well as being stretched and challenged with things Michael never thought he would be able to do again, have been very uplifting in his life. With gaining his trust, we have been able to attempt positions and activities that Michael thought would be impossible for him to achieve. He has stated several times throughout the past years that even though he may push back a little at these suggestions of new activities, he is always amazed and uplifted just as much, if not more, emotionally as well as physically when he succeeds.

As mentioned previously, a change of scenery and people, even just for one hour a week, gives Michael something to look forward to each week. With having this scheduled appointment every week, he knows that even though he may be sitting at home working on his computer all day, he will get a release from every day life, and will have an opportunity to try something new and have a conversation about him and his health as well as his goals or thoughts on new activities during physical therapy. This time is focused on him, and he is in charge. Even though we, as his therapists, make plans and plan out his treatment for the day prior to his arrival, if he comes in with something he would really like done that day, or would like to try, we change our plans to fit his wishes and needs. This time is ultimately for him to progress in his independence and comfort in his daily life.

Working with Michael these past few years has really opened our eyes to how much of a difference we can make in the lives of our patients long term. Just being there for him and listening to his concerns rather than assuming we have all of the answers and know the questions prior to them being asked makes a positive impact on Michael’s physical and emotional well-being.  We will continue to listen to and plan our treatment around Michael and his concerns and goals, to further his progress in his daily functioning.

========================  Patient Perspective  ========================

When I began physical therapy in 2017, I never realized just how much it would help me from an emotional standpoint. We all know the physical therapy is good for you, but over the course of the past 3 years, I’ve learned that my physical therapy also serves as a great mental and emotional therapy as well.

While most patients dread the thought of having to go to physical therapy, I actually enjoy every minute of it. I was always told that I would never be able to take physical therapy, because it would do me more harm than good, but after starting my treatments for SMA, that dream is now a reality. Friends of mine told me that I would be sore, and they never truly understood why I was so enthusiastic about taking physical therapy. Keep in mind, the majority of my friends that told me these stories are all considered able-bodied. Their experience with physical therapy was due to sports injuries or illnesses, so while I valued their opinions, I never put a lot of weight behind their stories, because I knew that my story would be completely different from theirs. [Truth be told, my friends who complained about physical therapy are wimps anyway, but don’t tell him I said that. They may be wimps, but the majority of them are very big and strong wimps, so let’s play it on the safe side and don’t tell them what I said, LOL….]

Anyone who goes to the gym or exercises on a regular basis, will tell you that when you exercise hard, your body releases endorphins. These endorphins give you that rush of energy that your body needs during this exercise routine. While I’m not lifting heavy weights or doing anything that would be considered strenuous, my body is still going through similar activities, and even though I may not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, my body thinks that I’m working as hard as an athlete. To me, these endorphins also give me that since of satisfaction that I’m doing something good for myself, which I never thought I would be able to do.

I was extremely lucky and fortunate to find physical therapists who not only knew what they were doing, but they actually enjoyed their jobs. The smiles on their faces are infectious, and one of the reasons why I enjoy my physical therapy is because of them. I know that it’s that one hour per week that I’ll be able to focus on myself, and do something for myself that will ultimately improve my physical condition and my mental condition. After my PT session, I may be sore, but mentally and emotionally, I’m in my own little dream world. Not only am I getting the physical workout that I need, I’m getting a great dose of social interaction and emotional support.

To the physical therapists that are reading this article, please know just how much you mean to your patients. They may complain from time to time, but if you can put a smile on their face like my physical therapists do for me, you’re not only changing them physically, you’re also improving them mentally and emotionally. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you do.