“Mike” was following all my recommendations, but no matter how good he felt leaving therapy, he still wasn’t able to drive his one-hour commute without low back pain.
Unsure what to do, I started once more from the beginning. I took Mike through the top tier of the Selective Functional Movement Assessment again and decided to focus on the one thing I seemed to have overlooked—his neck range of motion. Mike’s right rotation was fine, but his left rotation hardly hit 50 percent. Because he hadn’t reported any neck or shoulder pain, I had made a note of this asymmetry but then quickly moved on.
While I was a firm believer in regional interdependence, I was doubtful that working on his neck would fix his low back pain. I had already tried to work on his hips and his t-spine without success. Since I was out of ideas, I decided to work on his neck. After manual treatment followed by exercise, I rechecked his neck range of motion and found that it was within functional limits. Mike’s back still bothered him and he wasn’t impressed with his new cervical range of motion, but I assigned him the home exercise program anyway.
When Mike returned a week later, he was thrilled! His pain was a fraction of what it had been. I wondered why it worked, but it became clear when he announced, “When I have to merge or change lanes, I can just look over my shoulder now, and I don’t have to turn my whole body.”
As rehab professionals, we can apply our problem-solving backgrounds to not only get better outcomes with our patients, but also better outcomes in our own careers. There are three main reasons why this patient had a successful outcome, and they also happen to be the three ways I’ve found success in my career.
1. Have objective measures to test and retest.
The top tier led me to look at his neck. Objective measurements for his ROM and motor control told me that I was on the right path.
We need objective measures to determine whether we are progressing as expected. While we each have a unique career path, we still need to check and recheck our progress.
Action Step: Find a way to measure your progress. I suggest the PT Career Growth Index, a simple screen for foundational metrics in your career rate.
2. Ask for another perspective.
I didn’t realize on my own that I needed to treat Mike’s neck. My clinical mentor advised me to look at something that I felt might be a waste of time.
This has happened time and time again. I remember having difficulty treating patients with chronic pain. Although I had decided it must be my manual skills, I signed up for a Therapeutic Neuroscience Pain Education course on my mentor’s advice. It turned out that what I actually needed to do was communicate better with these patients. Suddenly my interventions and manual treatments were more effective.
Action Step: Find a professional mentor to help with career problem-solving. Your professional mentor will help you navigate your career path in the way a clinical mentor helps you navigate your clinical path.
3. Don’t overlook the unexpected.
When I examined Mike on his first visit, I identified the problem with his neck. But I didn’t see the connection between treating his neck and resolving his lower back pain.
This will be a common theme in your career. Things don’t that make sense while you are doing them will turn out to be great assets. For me, this was teaching health and physical education. As I started my PT career, I believed that the time I had spent teaching middle school was a waste. Maybe I would have been further along in my career if I hadn’t been a teacher first. I was stuck in my need to find a direct correlation between opportunity and outcome.
It turns out that being a health and PE teacher prepared me for one of the most exciting things I’m doing. In my work educating PE teachers on the concepts of the Functional Movement System, I see immense value in my time spent in that middle school gymnasium.
Action Step: Explore opportunities that don’t always directly translate to the outcome you expect. These opportunities might be exactly the ones that help you grow the most.
Our professional backgrounds transcend way more than physical therapy and athletic training. We can and should use these strengths in our professional lives as well as in the clinic. Following any one of these tips will help you see incredible results in your career. Go ahead and start today!
Looking for more resources to jumpstart your career? Check out some of the free resources at the Professional Rebellion, including the What’s Next 3 Day Challenge, Burnout Quiz, and the Career Growth Index.