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Comments & Curiosities: Physical therapy: pain, gain, some tears

September 18, 2010|By Peter Buffa

"I Am Joe's Aorta"; "I Am Joe's Brain." Remember those? If this is your first rodeo, you don't. If it isn't you do. It was a series of articles in Reader's Digest years ago in which a different body part each month would tell you what function they performed for Joe. Other than the fact that he owned all the parts, you never knew anything about Joe – just "I Am Joe's Aorta" or "I Am Joe's Spinal Cord." Things got a little dicey when they got to "I Am Joe's Lower Intestine," but they were very popular. Anyway, this week is the second installment of "I Am Buffa's Rotator Cuff."

Once you stumble out of surgery for whatever part they overhaul – shoulder, knee, back – you are supposed to start physical therapy right away if not sooner. Physical therapy is very important. If you are experiencing pain, soreness or swelling, a physical therapist will be able to make that worse in just one visit. I have learned that it all has to do with something called "range of motion," which is a measure of how far the affected limb can be moved or twisted before it reaches "optimum extension," which is apparently just before it breaks off. Is physical therapy new? It is not. In fact, physical therapy has been around for a very long time.

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Ancient medical practitioners like Hippocrates and Galenus used therapies like massage, manipulation and hydrotherapy to help people recover from injuries or treat certain conditions. Personally, I believe the father of physical therapy was a 15th century Spanish monk named Tomas de Torquemada, which is where the word "torque" comes from. During the Spanish Inquisition, if suspected heretics refused to confess, they would call in Torquemada to check their range of motion. After about four minutes of physical therapy with Torquemada, they would confess to anything, including causing the Great Flood. But most experts think the father of modern physical therapy was a Swede named Per Henrik Ling who founded the Royal Central Institute of Gymnastics in 1813 for "massage, manipulation and exercise." To this day, the Swedish word for physical therapist is "sjukgymnast," which means "impossible to pronounce."

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