Q&A: Modesto physical therapist's work is good for what ails a body

snowicki@modbee.comSeptember 8, 2013 

    alternate textSue Nowicki
    Title: Columnist, Faith & Family reporter
    Coverage areas: Weekly consumer column, plus features and news stories
    Bio: Sue Nowicki has worked at The Bee since 1982. She earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Missouri, Columbia, and enjoys answering readers' questions and telling their stories.
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    E-mail: snowicki@modbee.com

— Tim Fernandes of Golden Bear Physical Therapy in Modesto was coaching gymnastics several years ago while he was attending college and majoring in computer science.

"I had students who had gone to physical therapy," he said. "One of the other coaches was passionate about it. He was an aid in a physical therapy clinic and talked about the possibility of doing that full time.

"I decided to switch from computer science and do physical therapy instead."

To become a physical therapist, one must first get a bachelor's degree and then enter a graduate physical therapy program for about three years.

Fernandes said it was the right move for him. He spends much of his days assessing people who come in for physical therapy and helps develop a series of exercises, stretching, massage and other therapy that will help them recover from their injuries.

Here's what he had to say about his work:

Q: What kind of injuries do you see there?

A: The common diagnosis I see are: joint replacements — generally shoulder, hip, and knee; muscle strains, generally in the low back or spine; sprains, typically ankle sprains; repairs of muscles or ligaments, such as rotator cuff repair or anterior cruciate ligament repair.

Q: What's the most challenging injury you've successfully treated?

A: Probably unstable shoulders, where someone is trying to return to a sports performance level of function. That's a challenge because of the higher-level functional goals from therapy.

Q: When should a person seek physical therapy?

A: Therapy is prescribed by a doctor if you are having a problem functionally, such as poor balance, pain with use of a specific limb, back pain or gait problems. These are some of the things where your doctor would rule out any specific underlying medical problems and refer you to physical therapy.

Q: What are some things people can do by themselves to help heal a minor injury, such as a strained ankle?

A: When you have swelling in an area of injury, there is a common acronym — RICE — that stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation to help manage swelling. Some injuries require healing times before you can work with them, but once you are cleared to use the involved body part, you want to make sure that you regain your normal strength and flexibility to help prevent further injury.

Q: Do you recommend that people wear those elastic supporters for wrists, ankles, knees, etc., on occasion?

A: Supports are good, especially in the early healing stages to help with the tissues that are healing.

Q: What's the most common mistake people make while exercising, from your standpoint?

A: Many people will jump into exercising without building up to that level first, so they end up with strained muscles. Another problem is that they focus on one muscle or muscle group and exclude support muscles that are required. For instance, working out your chest muscles while neglecting the back sets up a muscle imbalance in the body.

Q: Each injury is different, but on average, how long does a person need physical therapy before they're healed?

A: Generally physical therapy will last from eight to 12 sessions. Some post-surgical patients can take longer because of the healing time required after specific surgeries.

Q: You offer different types of therapy (strength, stretch, massage, etc.). Is there one that is the most effective for general injuries?

A: It varies. Sometimes massage is more effective at restoring function, while at other times the stretching and exercise are what is needed. It really depends on the patient and the diagnosis, as well as which stage of recovery that they are in.

Q: What else would you like people to know about physical therapy?

A: Physical therapy is not just about recovery or rehab, but also about injury prevention and keeping moving to stay healthy.

Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at snowicki@modbee.com or (209) 578-2012.

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