Written by: Dennis Meszler, Sports Physical Therapist at Raleigh Orthopaedic Performance Center in Cary
With the increasing prevalence and effectiveness of technology it is hard to resist the urge to diagnose and treat yourself. We run into it all the time with our clients in Physical Therapy and I’m sure doctors and other health care professionals do as well. To me there seems to be about a 50/50 split between the people that realize this is a slippery slope and potentially dangerous to those that feels it should be able to cure all. As we all know, if you look long and hard enough you can find information that directly contradicts the last piece of information that you researched. So how do you decide what is right and how do you avoid the inevitable brain games we play with ourselves that tend to lead towards the doomsday conclusions? Don’t get me wrong regarding technology; knowledge is power and we live in the information age. I believe the good out weights the bad that comes from all the information we have access to but where is the cut off point?
The other thing we run into along these lines is people sharing information they received about their care with family or friends in an attempt to help them treat what they feel are similar problems. Also a very slippery slope.
The best way to avoid overstressing yourself and potentially getting bad or misleading information is to make sure your treatment plan is personalized to your individual problem. Shoulder pain, for example, can come from many different issues. Even if the pain is described in a similar way and occurs at a similar place you really need to look at the underlying reasons the pain is there in order to effectively treat it. One person may have an overuse rotator cuff tendonitis and another may have secondary impingement due to a loose joint and yet another may have a cervical spine disorder that makes them feel pain in the same area as the first two problems. If you try to treat them the same way you will get very different results and maybe, in some circumstances, make things worse.
Getting an evaluation from a licensed Physical Therapist will certainly help you cut through all the information out there and fine tune your approach to treatment. They can also help you decide whether or not there is something more problematic going on and steer you to other health professionals as needed. This will make your results better and more long-lasting. Building a relationship with your PT can also help you learn to use the technology at hand better as they can steer you to more reliable and related information based on your testing results at the time and in the future.
Personalizing health and fitness information in this way isn’t only for when you are injured. It would be great to find out what type of inefficiencies or limitations we have before injuries happen. In the same way you visit your dentist once or twice per year to check on the health of your teeth it would be great to evaluate the health and effectiveness of your movement. In this way we can hopefully avoid the compensations in our functional movement that build up over time due to things like everyday wear and tear, small bumps and bruises that we feel we just recover from over time, bad postural habits (everyone raise your hands) or other stressors to out musculoskeletal system.
Our bodies are really good cheaters! When our musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems feel stressors like the ones mentioned above we don’t just shut down. Our systems make slight, often times imperceptible, adjustments in order to keep functioning. These new pathways for function are less efficient than the original patterns and lead to slow (or maybe not so slow at times) break down of the system and it eventually shows up as pain. Screening to catch these issues before the pain arrives would be great. This personalization of fitness planning is how we can be proactive in caring for our bodies.
About Dennis Meszler, PT:
Dennis has 19 years of Physical Therapy experience in orthopedic settings. The last 6 years have been in a Sports Performance setting aimed at returning and maximizing athletic potential. Dennis received his Bachelors Degree in Biology from University of Rochester in 1994, Masters Degree in PT from University of Delaware 1997 and Sports Residency Program at University of Delaware 1997-1998. He is also Sports Certified Specialist through the American Physical Therapy Association in 2005 and recertified in 2015.