Lifestyle Matters: What I Learned from my Physical Therapy Patients This Week

“Educate your physical therapy patients” was the message my fellow classmates and I heard as we polished our healthcare skills in the outstanding physical therapy program at UConn.

30 years later I know the truth is this: My physical therapy patients teaches ME something every day, as long as I’m truly listening…with my ears, eyes, hands and heart.

What’s the most important message I learned from my rehabilitation patients this week?  Their lifestyle matters.

The professional physical therapist and certified athletic trainer in me is trained to help my patients restore important skills such as muscle strength, joint range of motion, flexibility, balance, endurance and coordination.  That all sounds important to me but those same skills are not always a top priority for my patients.

I learned a valuable lesson this week, thanks to my awesome physical therapy patients.

I had four high level patients from completely different sports all tell me, in various ways; “I want my lifestyle back!”  Their passion and pain was raw and honest.  I would have been a fool to not hear their pleas.

What Were My Physical Therapy Patients Really Saying?

My patients were telling me: ‘Instead of you focussing on strength numbers, fancy orthopedic tests and big medical words, just help me get back to doing what makes me happy!’  It’s just that simple.  Their words and body language made it clear:

“Stop trying to make me move like the perfect athlete.  Instead, help me get back to the same active lifestyle which made me excited to jump out of bed every day!”

How cool is it that we, as trusted partners of those in pain and body limitations, have the ability to restore someone’s lifestyle?!  That role is so important to those in our care.  As a physical therapis or athletic trainer, it’s our job to listen to them and respond accordingly.

My Take Home Points

    • People need to live the lifestyle which makes them happy and it’s my job to help that happen.
    • Ask those in pain better questions, then shutup and listen.
    • Teach others how to listen to their body.  Our amazing bodies are much smarter than we think.

To my patients, thank you.


Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

2 thoughts on “Lifestyle Matters: What I Learned from my Physical Therapy Patients This Week”

  1. Just curious to know but did you go into physical therapy right away after you finished you Athletic Training degree or did you work a bit? I am interested in going to PT after I graduate my athletic training program but I want to stay close to athletics so was just curious on when you introduced PT to your life.

    1. Frances, Your plan to go to physical therapy school after athletic training school is very wise. When I finish my athletic training degree, I returned for a 2nd summer internship with the NY Giants, continued to take science courses and started to work in a PT clinic while I awaited answers from PT schools. I was accepted and started at UConn PT school the following semester. If you can get into PT school DO IT!! Don’t worry about it pulling you away from athletics or sports. A physical therapy degree is priceless in the sports medicine world and you can easily specialize your education into any part of athletics to help athletes to stay healthy.

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