Ask a PT: Why is education important?
Fun fact: According to Google, on average, there are more than 300,000 searches for “lower back pain” every month. If you’re struggling with pain and have looked to the Internet for answers, you’re in good company. We humans have a natural desire to learn about ourselves and the world around us, and when we’re struggling with pain or loss of function, the right knowledge, delivered in the right way, can help us heal. Today, we’ll explore how learning about your condition can help you better manage it, as well as a few reasons to stay away from the offices of Dr. Google.
Here are a few benefits of education.
It busts myths about pain
When you’re in pain, you might get unsolicited advice from all angles, including the fearful voice in your head. Everyone feels pain differently, but for many of us, experiencing pain but not understanding it can be confusing and scary, especially if everyone around you has an opinion about it and you’ve been up late doom-scrolling health websites.
Learning the facts about what’s causing the pain can help you approach it more rationally and with less fear, which in turn can help you face the pain and overcome it. In most cases, the presence of pain doesn’t mean there’s serious damage, and your body is capable of doing much more than you think it can.
It helps you understand your treatment options
There are many different ways to treat musculoskeletal conditions. All of them have different success rates and levels of risk.
Understanding the specifics of your condition, the ways you can treat it, and the risks and benefits of each treatment, can help you make the most informed choices about your care.
It improves self-efficacy
Henry Ford famously said, “whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This is as true for overcoming pain as it is for any other goal. Self-efficacy, or the ability to believe that you can succeed, is an important part of the healing process. This is because the brain is heavily involved in your experience of pain.
Great physical therapy programs strengthen both body and mind with various tools, including education. The great thing about self-efficacy is that its benefits can extend into other areas of your life. Once you’ve conquered the back pain that’s been aggravating you for years, you might find yourself doing even more things that you thought you couldn’t, and feeling less depressed or anxious, too.
So what’s the big deal with Dr. Google?
Don’t get me wrong, all of the knowledge that your physical therapist or other medical provider will give you is out there for you to discover. The problem is, so is a lot of irrelevant, incorrect, and sometimes scary stuff. A search for ‘back pain’ returns 1.5 billion results, and even the most credible sources, like the symptom checkers from large medical providers, aren’t always right. An Australian study found that symptom checkers only listed the correct diagnosis first about a third (36%) of the time, and in almost half (42%) of cases, the correct diagnosis didn’t even appear in the top ten.
One of your provider’s jobs is to distill down all the available information and share what is relevant to you, empowering you without making you feel fragile, broken or scared. We’ve spent years studying the way the body and brain work and thousands of hours helping people just like you, so that we can give you all the insight you need - and more importantly, nothing you don’t.
Our approach to education
Here at SWORD, we take a multifaceted approach to education. Your physical therapist will start the education process from your very first video call, and continue it throughout your journey. They’ll also curate articles to help you learn on your own. You’ll also have access to an 8-week cognitive behavioral therapy program designed by psychiatrists and psychologists to improve your relationship to pain. All of this education will help you:
- Understand at a high level how your body works, the structures involved and how they work together.
- Know what you can do to improve your pain and function.
- Consider the physical AND emotional aspects of pain and recovery.
- Feel reassured that your body is strong and resilient.
- Learn when to push and when to slow down.
- Improve your self-efficacy and empower you to manage your health long-term.
What if something you’re told or you read doesn’t make sense? What if someone else told you something completely different? Well, just ask your physical therapist! They can help you sort through all of the information you’re hearing so you can make the decisions that are right for you.
About the author: Megan Hill, PT, DPT
Megan Hill, Doctor of Physical Therapy, is a licensed physical therapist focused on musculoskeletal rehab and chronic pain management. She dropped her plans to go to law school for physical therapy after a knee injury from the Chicago Marathon left her in need of rehab, and she hasn’t looked back since. She’s on a mission to empower people to manage their health through exercise, education and coaching, rather than relying on passive approaches.
Megan earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Duke University and is a certified running coach.
Megan lives in Denver, Colorado, where she spends every spare second running, biking, hiking, sailing and stand up paddleboarding with her husband, Layton, and dog, Ollie.