Physical Therapists Get “Grin and Bear It” Patients

Our tolerance for pain depends on who's delivering the ouch

I hurt my back skiing this past January. No big deal. Coming from a large family, I learned to shake it off, man up, rub some dirt on it. My mother’s motto was that if there was no blood or vomit, you were probably faking. So, after weeks of ignoring the ever-growing pain, I finally succumbed to family pressure and saw my doctor. Poking and prodding led to the determination that I needed a month’s worth of physical therapy. My doctor recommended a facility located close to home called Integrated Physical Therapy and off I went.

[SIGNUP]I have been to other physical therapy practices for other ski injuries. (I know, maybe I should take up another sport, but I like the après-ski part too much.) I know there are different approaches. Each practice’s philosophy relies heavily on exercise, technology (that stim machine feels really good in a very freaky way) or hands-on manipulation, but IPT throws all three at you, an all-encompassing approach to physical therapy. I liked the thinking. You know, something’s got to work. Who really cares what it is as long as my aching back feels better?

After attending faithfully for several weeks, my back pain is greatly improved and Larry, my therapist, feels that I should expect complete recovery. I’m grateful to Larry for his efforts and happy for the day that my back pain is gone but, through the process, I have come to be mildly amused at the bizarre phenomenon of what I call “pain appreciation.”

While I’m in my therapy session, I’m surrounded by people who, like myself, are in pain and have paid someone to poke and prod and stretch and manipulate all the parts that are sore. The process is oftentimes uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. No one complains; that’s why we’re there. There are some grunts and groans, heavy sighs and lots of those quick inhalations that translate to, “You’re killing me buddy!” but no one says a peep. It all strikes me as sadistically funny. The dentist doesn’t get that kind of leeway. No medical doctor would get away with that. How about the person that draws blood at the lab? I’ve heard people threaten reproductive systems all for a bad stick. My kid has screamed at me for pulling off a Band-Aid, but the physical therapist just smiles and kneads at the sore spot while you hold your breath and your commentary.

When the session’s over, I roll off the table and say, “Thank you, Larry” just before I hobble out the door. He smiles, big as life, and says “You’re welcome. See you tomorrow?” Sure, I’ll be in with my co-pay and my good manners.