Ester Marsh column: Why physical therapy is so important

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2022

I have talked to so many people who have received knee replacements lately, and I am proud that they are doing the exercises their physical therapists prescribed. Too many times, I see people who have joint replacements not doing their therapy pre- and post-operation, therefore their surgery isn’t as successful as it could be. Your doctor can put in a beautiful new joint but if you are not willing to do the exercises they prescribe, that joint will not be as good as it could be. And you can’t blame the doctor when this happens.

At Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, they have “joint camp” where you will do your initial therapy. This will be followed by regular physical therapy appointments, and your physical therapist will give you homework to do each day. Too often, I hear of post-replacement patients who are not doing their daily exercises their doctor/physical therapist instructed for them to do, and within a pretty short amount of time their range of motion in their knee joint disappears. They go back to the doctor, explaining that their knee has gotten stiff, maybe even painful. The doctor will always ask if they have been doing the exercises that were prescribed.

We have to take ownership of our own health. Your doctor or therapist doesn’t just give you homework to bother you — they know to make a surgery such as a joint replacement successful, and you have to continue the exercises to get the full benefits. After my tonsil cancer surgery and removal of the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck, I started have challenges with my left shoulder area. My surgeon warned me that this could be happening due to the invasive nature of the surgery and hopefully with time, the nerve heals fully. There are certain moves I literally can’t do. After testing with another wonderful physical therapist, Michelle Hopkins at Novant Health Rehabilitation Center on Lincolnton Road, I have been diagnosed with Trapezius palsy (spinal accessory nerve palsy).

Typically I am very in tune with my body and not being able to engage my trapezius is so strange for me. I am doing PT once a week right now and I have homework to do every day. It doesn’t feel good when you start the exercises, but within a few moves things start feeling better. Even though my trapezius is not engaging the way it is supposed to, my body is learning to move correctly and it’s feeling better already with less pain in the shoulder area. Hopefully with time, my spinal accessory nerve starts “talking” to my trapezius again! That can be six months to a year, so patience is truly required whether you are doing PT for replacement or issues such as trapezius palsy or rotator cuff. The better you listen to your doctor and therapist and do the exercises you need to be doing regularly, the sooner you will feel better!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA and a current physical therapy patient.