A learning journey
Healing the body starts with the brain
When Renee T. set out to fix her back pain, she quickly learned that healing the physical body starts with the brain. Working with Don Bursch, physical therapist at the MNPS Employee Wellness Center, Renee first needed a better understanding of how the body heals itself.
“When I hurt my back, I knew it wouldn’t just get better. And I knew I needed to get to the root of the problem, not just treat the symptoms,” she says.
So Renee first saw a nurse practitioner at the Center, who told her physical therapy was an option. She made an appointment with Don, who emphasized that PT is a process that evolves as the patient builds strength.
“I’ve always had bad posture, so part of my problem was an accumulation of years of standing incorrectly,” Renee says. “But I learned that just because you want to stand up straight doesn’t mean there’s room in the muscles for that. If they’re tight, if you’ve never done stretching for those muscles to release them, you can’t do it properly.”
Don taught Renee stretches and exercises to strengthen different muscles, allowing her to stand more correctly. But in addition to her standing posture — a common concern for teachers who are on their feet most of the workday — Renee had another problem to address when she moved from teaching to an administrative position.
“Being at a computer constantly hunched over exacerbated the problems as well,” she says.
She also carried a misconception about her pain.
“Prior to going to Don, I always thought you get older and get pain and that’s just how it goes,” she says. “But Don was like ‘No, you shouldn’t be having this pain. These stretches and exercises release that tension. If you’re carrying your body correctly and have the right strength, you’ll age but won’t have as much pain.’
“And too, I’m a big proponent of preventive medicine,” she continues. “I knew if I didn’t do something now, it just gets harder to change habits and to change your body.”
Another part of Renee’s therapy is working on muscle knots, some she’s had since college.
“I was always aware of this knot in my left shoulder, but in the past year, I started to have radiating headaches,” she says. “Don showed me pressure point therapy and explained that a knot will get bigger and harder to release if you don’t do something about it. I really haven’t had a stress headache since I began therapy.”
When ask how committed she’s been to following Don’s recommendations, she admits, “When I’m doing the exercises, I feel great. During the first six weeks I did them as much as recommended, every day, and the pain went away. Then I did them less and the pain started to come back. So I’m doing them a little more now.
“Going to Don holds me accountable.”
Removing the barriers to recovery
Part of the strategy of offering physical therapy at the Employee Wellness Center is to make services that tend to be valuable to teachers more accessible and affordable.
“For a long time I wanted to try PT,” says Renee.” I always knew something wasn’t right, but I could never afford it. So being able to go to the Wellness Center is pretty incredible.”