What Really Happens at Physical Therapy?!

I’m the Marketing Director at Performance Rehabilitation. I’m also a patient.

I hurt my back, probably in Zumba class, using heavy weights for too long in the wrong way. Luckily, scans confirmed no serious fracture, but I did strain muscles, and further stressed a portion of my thoracic spine causing pain to radiate up into my neck.

I visited my doctor due to the pain. She ordered an x-ray, then MRI. Afterward she determined that physical therapy was in order. She wrote a PT prescription for 2 times/week for 6 weeks.

For me, the choice of physical therapy provider was a no-brainer. I picked Performance Rehabilitation not just because I work here, but because I have observed the professionalism, meticulous attention to detail, friendliness and expertise provided when caring for patients. If I was going to do this, I was happy it would be here.

I asked for a woman therapist. I’m not sure how many women ask for women and how many men ask for men. It shouldn’t matter because they are all professionals. But I suppose sometimes it does.

My First Visit – the Initial Evaluation (IE)

On my first visit I completed several pages of paperwork including history, symptoms and degree of pain. The information served to give the therapist a thorough understanding of my condition.

Next, I was brought into a private room with a table, desk, and some equipment that would be used for assessment. My physical therapist, Shruti, reviewed the reports I provided from my doctor. She also had me turn in various directions, squeeze her fingers for strength and perform a few other tasks to assess and observe my condition, including range of motion and pain level in performing tasks.

The Massage

Next, in the same room I was asked to put my head face-down in a hole at the top of the table – it was massage time. According to Shruti, it was “soft tissue release” time. Simply thinking about what was about to happen, my body became limp in relaxation. Shruti applied a massage lotion infused with arnica, ivy and cucumber extract. She then carefully massaged my neck and back muscles, priming me for the rest of the session. This part of the therapy was VERY enjoyable. Ahhhhh. I wanted it to last. It went on for about ten minutes and then it was time to get moving.

The Exercises

I was brought out into the main gym area where many other patients were going about their exercise routines. There are several tables lining the room and many types of exercise equipment, large and small, which are placed throughout the area. This includes a small wooden staircase strewn with colored bands (each color has a different level of resistance), stationary bicycles, treadmills, stability balls, and so much more.

I heard laughter on one side of the room, where a therapist was talking with a patient who was lying on a table. In contrast, across the room a finely built young man was wincing while bending his foot seemingly in rhythm to the music playing overhead. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. It felt good to be among the patients instead of in the back office where I usually sit at my computer for much of the day. There I often write about the benefits of PT. Now I was living it. I was one of the “troopers,” sweating it out and working to get rid of the pain in my body, with the help of my therapist and her assistant.

Before each exercise Shruti described the steps and exact body position required to do them. Once she was sure that I was safely and independently performing each one, the assistant Margarita helped me maintain proper positioning, along with the equipment.

Every exercise plan is different. Mine consisted of:

  • Shoulder Resistive Rows with T-band. I held an elastic band with both hands, drawing my arms back while keeping my elbows close to my side. I had to do 3 sets of 10.
  • Thoracic Rotation – Seated. I sat in a chair with good, tall posture. I folded my arms and rotated to the right and then the left. I repeated 3 sets of 10. I held each stretch for 5-10 seconds.
  • Shoulder – Resistive – Horizontal Abduction. While holding an elastic band with my elbows straight and in front of my body, I pulled my arms apart and towards the side. I did 3 sets of 10.
  • Shoulder – Shoulder Rolls. I moved my shoulders in a circular pattern also in an up, back and down direction. I performed small circles for comfort. I did 3 sets of 10.
  • Doorway Stretch. I stood in a doorway with my hands flat against the sides of the door. Slowly I walked through the doorway until I felt a gentle stretch across the front of my chest and/or shoulders. I did this 3 times, each 30 seconds.
  • Chin Tuck. Lying down or sitting I tucked my chin in and out. 3 sets of 10.
  • Thoracic Stretch-Open Book. Lying on my side, arms out straight and hands together, I slowly lifted my top arm and rotated my body. I held this position 10 seconds, then repeated. 2 sets of 10.

It didn’t take long to get the hang of each exercise. Some were harder than others. While doing each one, I occasionally lost track of the number of reps I completed. I had never worked with resistance bands before and found those routines a little harder. In writing, and in pictures, the exercises do not seem strenuous. For me, with back and neck pain, the session was a true work-out. My body felt tired afterward. Throughout the exercises, Margarita was there to help and check to make sure I was performing the moves correctly.

Heating Pad

After the exercises were complete, it was time to go back to the private room. Shruti asked me how I felt. She assessed my pain and range of motion, to see my progress, by having me slowly twist and turn. I laid back on the table face-down and Shruti came in and applied a damp heating pad to my neck and back. It felt warm and comforting. I felt calm. I felt accomplished.

Proper Habits

I am a firm believer that injuries don’t happen to us in a vacuum and it is often poor habits that predispose us to getting hurt or even having accidents. My physical therapist believes this too. She also knows that proper habits such as using good posture when sitting or standing, sleeping with my pillow in proper position, and more, will help my recovery and enable me to stay healthier. She suggested that I be mindful at my desk at work – sit up straight and not cross my legs. I was so grateful for this advice which really served to make my treatment complete and gave me something I could take away and use my whole life – it was a gift. It reminded me that Performance Rehabilitation’s tagline “…with you every step of the way” is true and meaningful.


I was given a printout with the description of each exercise including a picture of someone doing them. I was advised to do the exercises at home.

The Next Sessions

As I went through the sessions, Shruti assessed and re-assessed my condition each time. At the beginning of every session she asked me how I felt and my level of pain. She also asked me to perform movements similar to those that I did the first session. Then, based on how I felt, I was given much or part of my routine to do, adding or taking away an exercise here or there. This has been repeated over the weeks that followed.

Is it Working?

Yes, it is! I am feeling better, even though I am not done yet with my sessions. Importantly, I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and looking forward to signing up for a dance class in the near future. This time though it won’t be Zumba – maybe I will try jazz instead!