Do you ever feel the pressure to conform, to fit in, to do things simply because you are a physiotherapist? Should this be the way? Do we need to look a certain way, or play a particular sport to be a good physiotherapist? Do we need to have been injured previously to understand the impact it has on people’s lives and to guide them through their journey of rehabilitation?

This post is inspired by a friend and (albeit distant) colleague of mine Yusra- she is a Global Pre and Post-Natal Coach. And she recently posed a very interesting question regarding pressure as physiotherapists or fit pros to be able to do certain things. Things like performing certain movements, lift a certain weight or run a certain distance. And it has really gotten my thoughts reeling. Both in respect to our physical fitness experience and also in regards to our previous experiences in the area of women’s health.

Why is it that we have the pressure upon us to conform? Do we expect the surgeon reconstructing our ACL to have undergone the very same surgery? When we get tonsillitis, does it matter if the Doctor prescribing the antibiotic has taken it before?

Not too long after Yusra brought this topic up, I saw an Instagram post. It said “A Physical therapist or rehab professional that doesn’t ever squat, deadlift, sprint or swing a kettlebell is like a mechanic that only ever drives their car at 30 mph. Hard to give advice on exercise when you don’t have any practical experience pushing your own body”. And here we have it, the pressure to conform. But why? Why is it important that I, as a physiotherapist, can do these four things? Maybe I am a serious swimmer? Maybe I am a yoga guru. Maybe I am an avid hill walker. Maybe I have pushed my body in other ways. In fact, even if I haven’t, should it matter? Does my ability to squat, deadlift, sprint or swing a heavy, metal object impact my potential and my ability as a physiotherapist?

So, what does defines a good physiotherapist? Is it my ability to lift my own body weight racked on a bar on my back? Or is it my ability to help others achieve that? Is it my ability to run 100m in 9.58 seconds? Do we think Usain Bolt’s trainers and physiotherapists were able to do it before he claimed the world record?

Which do you think is more important? Being able to do these things as a therapist- or being able to guide our patients to being able to do it? Realistically, is my ability to perform these movements sufficient or necessary to help someone else to do it?

Like I have said in a previous post (that you can check out here), as a physiotherapist my aim is to maximise quality of life and movement potential of the person in front of me, in line with their goals. Not mine. What I do in my spare time is up to me. Personally, I enjoy a range of different things. I like yoga, I like the gym, I enjoy running and hill walking. I have dabbled in a little bit of Aerial Silks. And I do these things because I enjoy maximising my own movement potential. I like to see how my body likes to move and to push its limits. I enjoy doing that.

But does that mean I have to? Does it make me a better physiotherapist? Does it in any way influence my rapport with a client, my communication with them, my ability to facilitate and guide them on their journey to their own goal.

What about the person who wants to climb Everest? Does that mean I have to climb it first before I can help my client to achieve it?

Do we experience pressure to conform? To be able to lift heavy. To look a certain way. Yes.

Is it right? No.

Physiotherapists and Fitness Professionals are human beings too. With our own goals. With our own interests. My interest may not be aligned with yours, but will I do the best I can to learn and educate myself on your desired goal? Absolutely. Will I ask you repeatedly to do certain movements or part of your own sport? Absolutely. Does this mean I am a bad physiotherapist? Or one always endeavouring to expand my skillset?

Is my questioning and experimenting with movements and movement patterns ignorant? Or is it my way of seeking understanding and finding my footing on the road we are manoeuvring together?

I then apply this to women’s health physiotherapy. My main clientele is women postpartum. I am a nulliparous woman. Does this mean I am unable to help them? It has always played on my mind a little. Is there pressure on women’s health and postpartum therapists to have gone through childbirth? Am I doing the women I am helping and disservice by not having my own first-hand experience? By not being able to relate to exactly what they have experienced are they not receiving the care they should?

A lot of women enter the field of Women’s Health after experiencing the flaws in the system or the lack of support through their own journey. But does this have to be the way?  Do we need to have had the experience ourselves to empathise with our client?

What if we flip it on its head? Maybe it’s the opposite? Maybe I am better off not having had children? We all have our own beliefs; we are shaped by our own experiences. Would having my own birth story- be it positive or negative, impact the care I give to these women? Would I project those experiences and beliefs upon my client unintentionally? Maybe by not having had first-hand experience and not having my own birth story, I can listen to my clients more objectively.

Is there a right or a wrong here? Should whether I have had children even matter? Is there pressure there for women’s health physiotherapists to experience problems, or have given birth? Is the pressure coming from ourselves? Or is it from others? What about men, men can be women’s health physiotherapists too. If I have felt pressure to have experienced these issues first-hand, where does that leave men?

At the end of the day, who is it all about? Is it me? The physiotherapist? Or is it my client? To me that is a no brainer. While my beliefs, experiences and biases will certainly impact the client, are they the driver in my treatment?

In today’s society there are high levels of pressure to be experienced. Pressures to do certain things, look a certain way, be a certain person. The physiotherapy world is no different. But shouldn’t we band together, use each other’s strengths, and learn from one another? Learn from colleagues and clients alike. One person will not have all the answers, but together we might just find some of them.

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