Every year, millions of Americans may feel the benefits of past physical therapy experiences. These treatments can greatly improve their quality of life, and may therefore be invaluable to many patients. But one person who once received PT that ended up having a major positive impact for her decided to give back, cutting a major donation check to the University of Southern California's physical therapy department.
Barbara Fried was on vacation with her husband in the Galápagos Islands in 2000 when she injured her shoulder in a sailing accident, according to a report from USC's website. That injury turned out to be a torn rotator cuff, which in turn led to two surgeries that tried to correct the problem. Neither worked. At that point, she sought help through the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, where therapist David Luedeka and professor of clinical physical therapy Lori Michener were able to successfully get the 74-year-old Fried back to 100 percent over 18 months.
As a result of these treatments, Fried saw such a turnaround in her capabilities that she's now fully on-board with physical therapy as a treatment option that can help people recover from even the most serious, nagging injuries, the report said. To that end, she has donated $463,000 toward Michener's research for a pilot study specifically related to treating torn rotator cuffs. This comes after the bad experience with the two surgeries, which she attributes to doctors pushing her to recover as quickly as possible, even though she might have been worried about the pain still surrounding her injuries even after going under the knife.
"Before, I couldn't lift an arm, I couldn't do anything," Fried, who serves as president of a real estate developer based out of Virginia, told the site. "But this program brought me back to life. I'd like other people to have the benefit of this kind of treatment because I think Lori and David can demonstrate that this is the way physical therapy should be, not just checking off boxes in a book."
Are these results typical?
In general, studies have shown that using physical therapy to recover from an injury is often just as effective as surgery. In Fried's case, going under the knife twice but not feeling any better is certainly a realistic outcome, but it's probably not one that's going to be particularly common. Meanwhile, because physical therapy is a process, and because every injury and person is different, it may take months or more to see real results that improve mobility, but it will likewise be a rare case that PT can't help.
This is why more states are passing laws that allow consumers to seek physical therapy without visiting a primary care physician for a referral first. That improves access to treatment that can often save more money - and potentially pain - by avoiding surgery. Meanwhile, though, it's on colleges to continue improving training for therapists during their educations so that they can better serve patients going forward.