This Is How and When to Get the Most out of Physical Therapy

Written by | Wellness

man talking with physical therapist

Healing from an exercise-related injury, surgery or other aches and pains? A certified physical therapist can set you on the road to recovery. Dr. Mark Lusk, PT, DPT, OCS, CFMT is the founder of MVMT Physical Therapy ( and has worked as a physical therapist with the casts of more than 50 Broadway shows. He spoke to Metrosource about when and how to get the most out of PT.

How did you end up working in this field?

I worked as a professional dancer for ten years and tore a ligament in my knee. I had physical therapy before and after surgery. It gave me exposure to the profession, and it felt like a logical choice as a career transition when it was time to stop dancing.

In addition to when a patient is referred by a doctor, when do you recommend seeking out a physical therapist?

You should come to see a physical therapist when you have pain that’s not going away — [for example] performance pain (post-workout soreness) or pathological pain (pain that’s increasing or not going away in a day or two).

How does the process begin with new clients?

Half or more of my job is educating the patient on what is going on with their bodies. We go over their diagnosis, how long [the process] is going to take, what the course of that injury looks like, what to do at home, what not to do at home. We talk about nutrition, medications, how to use your body at work or in the gym. Physical therapy is not just doing some massage or soft tissue mobilization, giving you a few generic exercises, and sending you on your way. We discuss how you sit at work, how you work out, … how you carry your dog down the stairs, carry groceries, … you name it, we discuss it.

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What changes have you seen in patients over the last decade?

Technology has definitely changed our work landscape. We always have our faces in our phones or computers and that has a big affect on alignment, our neck pain and mobility in general. When we sit at a desk all day our activity decreases; some of the big joints that work for us stop doing their job, and there’s a little more breakdown. People still have that expectation of, “I want to go home to run a few miles,” but their bodies aren’t up to it.

How does your dance background factor into your practice?

As a dancer I have spent hundreds of hours watching and analyzing movement — my own and others. I have a personal understanding of what dancers have gone through in their training, what their performance schedule is like, and the unique mindset of an elite-level athlete. Dancers speak their own language; they have a specific vocabulary with regards to their technique. It’s important to understand that language and also see how their form should look. We discuss their footwear, their costumes, the style and flavor of the choreography they’re dealing with. We’re able to take a deeper dive past the normal: “Where is your pain? Or how much does it hurt?”

Can people can avoid surgery with physical therapy?

There are some injuries that we as PTs just can’t change. That being said, we can absolutely help delay a surgery, but it all depends on the severity of the injury.

What would you say to someone resisting post-surgery PT?

I’ve often seen people not going to PT after surgery, [even though] it’s so important. It’s not to just get some stretching and hands-on work. It can help with decreasing pain and restoring some of your functional movements. It’s so important to listen to your therapist after surgery. There can be restrictions on movement, and if you don’t listen to those protocols, you put that surgery at risk. You don’t want to have just gone through that surgery for nothing, right?

How do you create an ideal healing environment?

Creating a healing environment is about reducing pain and swelling, and addressing stresses on the body. There’s a lot of things we have at our disposal. We have electrostimulation and ultrasound, ice, and heat. These are more passive approaches and certainly have their place in helping to relieve the pain cycle. I don’t want to be stuck using those because I’ve come to find the best tools are my hands and eyes. If all you’re getting is a hot pack and ultrasound, you may be missing a lot of other factors.

Would you say stretching is the cornerstone of PT?

It’s an important component, but I wouldn’t say it’s the core. The ability of muscles to lengthen and fold is important. However, over-stretching creates microtears and microtrauma.

Can a person really stretch too much?

You shouldn’t need to spend fifteen minutes stretching one body part. Hit it and quit it, get in and get out. But more often people aren’t stretching enough.

Should people ever see a physical therapist preventatively?

If you’re wanting to try a new fitness program or boot camp — or even running or biking, we can help you to determine if you’re ready to take on that activity. A physical therapist can take you through a full body assessment, help correct imbalances and get you moving more efficiently.

How much of healing is the patient’s responsibility?

There are a lot of misconceptions about therapy — that it’s just a hot pack, a cold pack, a bike and some exercises. … My work is empowering my patients to take an active participation in their own rehabilitation. It’s not up to me to do it for you: You’ve got to want it more than me, and that’s where you’re going to see results.

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Last modified: September 19, 2019