Physiotherapy and Buttercups

Applies the famous Gibson Disappointment Scale© in musing about the undeniable fault with physiotherapy: It doesn’t work.

Physiotherapy has been one of the biggest disappointments of my life.

I say this more in sorrow than in anger, and, paradoxically, with great respect for its practitioners. Yet it is undeniable: On the famous Gibson Disappointment Scale©, physiotherapy ranks south of devastating, but north of flummoxing.

Scale running from "irritating" to "devastating," with selected disappointments placed for illustration.

Some of these placements are eminently self-evident: Santa Claus, for example.

Some are pretty nearly self-evident: squirrels, for example.

Some require some explanation: silk, for example. (It’s not, umm, silky. You know what I mean? I thought you would.)

Some, however, require careful consideration, speaking as they do to the fundamentals of the human condition: physiotherapy is one of these.

I first heard about physiotherapy as a teenager, long before I encountered it for my own self. As near as I could tell, doctors prescribed it as they did antibiotics: Take this set of appointments and, hey presto! Your malady will be cured.

But over the years, I heard rumblings of discontent from those undergoing physiotherapy, ruffling my tidy world view.

It hurt?

“What’s up with that?” I wondered, but not very hard. With all the sanguineness of the person not hurting, I figured, you know, short-term pain for long-term gain.

It took a long time?

“Well, OK,” I thought, still dismissively, “Medium-term pain for long-term gain. Still a pretty good deal.” Suck it up, buttercup.

So when my back first hurt, lo, these several decades ago now, and the doctor prescribed anti-inflammatories and physiotherapy, I popped my pill and went to that first appointment with great confidence in the outcome, overlain with just a smidgen of apprehension about the sucking-it-up part.

Imagine my disappointment, though, when I discovered that any pain inflicted during the appointment was not the problem. Sure, the physiotherapists pulled and stretched and massaged, and applied heat or cold or electrical current, as seemed right to them. Sure, some of it caused pain and some of it relieved pain, both in the moment and later on.

But what was wrong with physiotherapy was much more fundamental: It did not work.

By which I mean, I had to. As my current practitioner says, “You can’t fix it with your wallet.”

No, fixing whatever “it” is requires consistent compliance with apparently endless and endlessly tedious exercises, given as homework, and with changed habits of posture, stance, and activity, given as an ongoing challenge.

What’s up with that? No longer entirely sanguine, I have to say I’m seriously disappointed.


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18 Responses to Physiotherapy and Buttercups

  1. Ralph Gibson says:

    I hope you’re not disappointed with your essay !

  2. You didn’t find the right physiotherapist, is all I can say. They come in a range of effective sizes. Also, the trick is to get to them before you have been in chronic pain for months! And, get the right chair for your computer!
    (We are our own worst enemies…don’t get me started.)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Well, I’ve had better and worse physiotherapists over the years, but agree that it’s important to start early. I had a pain in my arm this summer and thought I knew what it was (something that goes away eventually on its own). When I also developed some bursitis, I finally went to see a physio who judged that the arm pain was referred pain from the shoulder. So I could (& should) have started my regime months earlier.

  3. Alison says:

    Oh no Barbara, I think she’s right. Physio, like so many things in life, requires more than just going to the appointment. Alas! I have wished it didn’t as well. But, without work on your part, it doesn’t last, and sometimes doesn’t even help. Whenever I find myself back at the Physiotherapist, I think of the pain they inflict as kind of my “punishment” for NOT following the exercises, and the recommendations. Much like when I leave the dentist, vowing I’ll floss EVERY day, I leave Physio sure that I’ll never get myself in this situation again – but, somehow I seem to.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Oh, don’t mention dental hygiene – I have my 4-month appointment this week . . .

  4. Carla Dawes says:

    I am VERY impressed with the Gibson Disappointment Scale© , particularly its use of “flummoxed”, which is one of my favorite words! The first time I used it, Murray nearly fell out of the car (he was driving), and asked me earnestly “Who on earth uses that word?!” – why Isabel and I do, of course!

    I must say though, I’m shocked I haven’t come across the Scale before, being that it’s so famous! Funny post Isabel, thanks for the laugh!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Carla – Maybe it’s that stealthy sort of fame – no one has actually heard of it, but they should have? Re flummoxed, I think it came to me in a dream as I searched for the right word for the mid-range.

      • Marion Neiman says:

        Well, you might have chosen bewildered, although flummoxed is more of a flat-on-the-back “WTF?” sort of a feeling, I think, while bewildered wanders around the woods in a lost sort of way.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Marion – Yes, that seems right. Bewildered is sort of pitiful – not the feeling to drive a wholesale re-evaluation of one’s premises.

  5. Judith says:

    There’s silk and there’s silk and there’s silk and there’s silk and there’s silk. Some are silky.

    Don’t know if physiotherapy works these days because I can’t be bothered to go to the effort to make and keep the appointments. My treatment of choice is sports massage therapy. The worst that happens is that I feel calm and relaxed. The best is my condition improves – sometimes even “instantly” disappears. As with physios, there are massage therapists and there are massage therapists.

    Excellent scale!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – I had one set of appointments with a sports therapist – I think he was the guy who figured out that there were two things wrong with my back, with the treatment for each contraindicated for the other. Also, he did something called myofascial release – I was so relaxed on the way home I almost fell asleep on the freeway.

  6. Jim Taylor says:

    I need to send two replies, picking up two elements in your narrative.
    I have a shade of disappointment in the Gibson Disappointment Scale, in that it doesn’t include any feedback loops. It’s through that constant feedback that mere irritation turns into utter devastation: silly stretching exercises turn into a reason for quitting running altogether; attempting to be polite to a jerk turns into loathing….

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Hmm. I get the conceptual point, but not sure my PowerPoint skills are up to it! Technique (or lack thereof) raises its ugly head again!

  7. Jim Taylor says:

    Okay, second response. I don’t know much about silk, never having worn Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings, etc. But I remember a verse that my parents’ generation thought quite risque:
    I wear my silk pyjamas in the summer when it’s hot;
    I wear my flannelette ones in the winter when it’s not.
    And sometimes in the springtime, and sometimes in the fall
    I slip myself between the sheets with nothing on at all!

  8. Marion Neiman says:

    You know what IS silky? Chocolate milk, that’s what.

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