Celebrate World Physical Therapy day: 13 lessons for physiotherapists

World Physical Therapy Day: Physiotherapist training Spinal Cord Injury woman to walk World Physical Therapy Day: Physiotherapist working with a Spinal Cord Injury Woman

In Celebration of World Physical Therapy Day, I am sharing the 13 lessons every Physiotherapist or healthcare professional should know and apply when working with someone with a Spinal Cord Injury!


The desire to be seen and safe

We all have a desire to be seen – by our family and friends and by our healthcare professionals!

Yet many of us will have stories of encounters with professionals from the healthcare and social service systems that make us feel quite the opposite. In the one place where we, and Society as a whole, would benefit the most if we were seen.

Because when healthcare providers truly see us, their care respond to the actual needs we have.

If they can’t see us, they can’t understand what our needs are. As simple as that.

And so being seen by our healthcare providers is a necessity.


In hospital

After my accident, I stayed a whole month – 28 days to be exact – in the hospital. Ten days in the intensive care unit where I was seen and taken care – both body and soul. And 18 days on the wards, in a department that took care of people like me, who had serious injuries that impede their mobility. At first, with intense pain resulting from both the accident and the back surgery I had, my capacity to be independent was severely altered.

I required help for everything – and I truly mean… EVERY-thing. From brushing my teeth to emptying my bladder.

On that ward, we were I don’t many people (but A LOT) for ONE nurse, ONE nurse-associate and TWO nurses’ aid. If the nurses saw us, we rarely saw them. And the nurses’ aid were too busy to even care. That… was excruciatingly painful times.


Rehabilitation Journey

I was then fortunate to be transferred to Intensive Rehabilitation Center. There, we would be taken care of by a small team of TWO nurses and ONE nurses’ aid for about eight to ten patients, and we would receive ONE occupational therapy session and ONE physiotherapy session per day. If needed, we would have support from a psychologist, a social worker, a nutritionist, a sexologist and medical doctor with particular expertise, such as urology, physiatry, and general medicine.

I can tell you… This is the place I felt the most seen.


And with that amount of support, the only thing I could do as a patient – was work as hard as I could! My job was to use all the resources I had at my disposal – and just grunt my way through.

This is how I tackled the rehabilitation process anyways!


Teaching Physiotherapists best-practices

To ensure their expertise would continue to live on, the professionals from the Center for Expertise in Spinal Cord Injury all took in interns. These interns would have the opportunity to work with real patients, like me, and learn from the best, the professionals who worked with us.

One day, my physiotherapist takes me to the side.

He has a favor to ask me.

He knows I provide great constructive feedback (even when he didn’t ask for them lol) and knows I have professional experience in teaching, training and supervising professional students myself.

His favor: for me to let a student work with me, unsupervised.

He is unsure how she would do without the support of another professional and he wants to check in a way he feels it is still safe for me. He knows I will say something if I feel unsure or unsafe, while other patients may not be as open to do so, and he reassures me he will have eyes on me the whole time – from the other side of the gym.

I agree.


The Role of Rehabilitation Professionals

His hunch was right.

The student, as lovely as she was, asks me to do exercises that are impossible for me to realize. I tell her, and remind her of my level of injury, yet she does not readjust the directives. She just lets me fail, over and over again. And then, she asks me to do something that would put my safety in jeopardy. Unseen. No matter what I would say loudly into her ears – she couldn’t see.

As clinical professionals, we work with Human Beings. It is ESSENTIAL to build that trust. It takes time and commitment to do so, yet it is so easily lost. But without trust, you cannot do your work right.

As I reflected later that evening, I wrote 13 lessons I feel physiotherapists and other professional would benefit from knowing.

Writing those out, I applied what I had learned from reading about Robert Strike, a father with a disability, who, himself had reflected upon what was needed from occupational therapists and psychologists in the field of Parents and Parenting with Disabilities. Here is his article: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1015234404530


13 lessons for Physiotherapists working with Spinal Cord Injury Patients

  1. We are people not just injuries
  2. Speak to us… All the time. I need to KNOW you have my back. As a paraplegic, I cannot see you or feel your presence when you are behind me.
  3. Tell us what you want, how you want it to be done, why, and how many repetitions! We need to understand why THIS is important. And HOW to make it work.
  4. Be sure of what you do. Because everything you ask of us, is foreign to us! We are in the process of learning about our body in a whole new light.
  5. Tell me, then show me, make me do it, then correct me. This is how I will know exactly what to do.
  6. Make sure we succeed. If we have difficulties, don’t let us struggle or fail. Modify the exercise or find another way to do it!
  7. If I don’t get it… Don’t assume this is MY fault. Maybe YOU are not explaining it right!
  8. Congratulate us…. Every minute! If we work hard, you should too! I’ll work my muscles, you work your vocal chords!
  9. Make us laugh! Because more often than not we just want to cry!
  10. Read us! Pay attention to our cues of fatigue. If you do, you will know when to push versus when to stop, and how and when to push us even harder.
  11. Get to know us. We will work harder for someone who connects with us!
  12. Learn our language: we grunt when we work hard, we scream when we work harder, we shut up when we can’t work any longer!
  13. And REMEMBER: Your job contributes at making us strong, at regaining our dignity. So you do everything in your power to make us achieve this and we will do our part!


Celebrate World Physical Therapy Day by sharing your Gratitude to Physiotherapist and healthcare professionals!

And with that said, I want to celebrate all Physiotherapists – especially the ones who have made an incredible difference in my life!

Healthcare professionals work hard to make us  be healthier. Their role and the role of Physical Therapy is intricatly linked to our capacity to bounce forward when adversity strikes and health related challenges come our way.

By working hard in rehabilitation and beyond, we are able to live full lives as wheelchair users, as I spoke about here:

Hope after a Spinal Cord Injury: 3 ways to raise awareness