Don't give up the things that keep you going.
Yesterday, while running with some friends, we got to talking about their experiences with physical therapy. One member of our group stated that she had physical therapy years ago for back pain. She was told that she tore "something" in her back, and it was caused by running. She went on to say that her physical therapist recommended that she never run again because it would lead to severe pain in her back. She also stated that she ran a half marathon less than a year later, despite the advice to avoid running. For that, I applaud her.
I am shocked at the number of people who have told me similar stories, whether it being a doctor or therapist advising someone to avoid a particular activity for the rest of their life. As a PT in 2017, I feel that we have come a long way as a profession. However, these things continue to happen.
Firstly, I have never seen someone tear anything in their back, much less have it caused by running. Improper lifting can cause back injuries in certain situations, but normally running does not put excessive force on the back in a way that would lead to a muscle or ligament tear.
Secondly, the job of a physical therapist is not only to physically help people return to doing the things they love, but to empower people. Telling someone they can never run again because it will lead to severe pain is the worst possible way to handle an injury.
I like to think that if she had come to therapy in present day, it would have been handled differently. We know more about pain than ever before and understand that movement is critical to reducing and eliminating pain. This person's identity was and is highly associated with her ability to run. Making her fearful of running would increase her chance of experiencing pain when running, as she would be anticipating pain. The anticipation of pain is one way that we know chronic pain persists. Oftentimes, if we can show someone that a particular activity can be consistently done pain free, they will be less likely to continue experiencing the pain. More therapists are aware of current pain theory and the role that the mind plays in someone's pain.
I am proud of my friend for continuing to run despite the advice of her therapist. If a doctor or therapist tells you to never again do something you love, get a second opinion. Don't give up the things that keep you going.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
Dr. Cameron Dennis, PT, DPT