As reported by the New Britain Herald, February 6, 2005.

Physical Therapy Is Helpful from Cradle to Grave, Therapist Says

By Tricia Stuart

Barbara Boucher, a physical therapist and director of Rehabilitation Services at the University of Connecticut Health Center, believes there is no age limit for physical therapy, and has seen its benefits for 20 years.
Boucher has been involved in helping infants who are born with physical developmental problems, people recovering from injuries and surgery, preventive therapy, and loss of mobility during aging.

"After an injury, physical therapy is always beneficial. I think we can speed along the physical healing and make it go quicker," she said.

While most people may think of hospitals or clinics when they think of physical therapy, there are many other places where therapists help. Physical therapists are in school systems helping the developmentally disabled, in nursing homes, in rehabilitation facilities helping people who are ready to leave the hospital but not yet able to return home. They help paraplegics learn how to propel wheel chairs, and they are in health clubs helping people with fitness while avoiding injury.

"We help musicians get over strains because of repetitive motions, and to strengthen the muscles you’re not using while playing. We help surgeons who are hunched over patients for hours at a time," said Boucher.

Boucher said it is important to strengthen muscles not being used.

"We help with assessing work stations, to avoid shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome, and checking for ergonomics," Boucher said.

Years ago, Boucher helped an older gentleman who frequently fell at home. When he fell, his wife would call 911 because she couldn’t help him off the floor. "You look at strength. Why are you falling? I told him to get on the floor.

He looked at me like I was crazy. I said, ‘I’m going to teach you how to get up." I had him getting on his side, then on his knees. I had to give him some assistance to get up off all fours but it wasn’t anything that his wife couldn’t handle. I didn’t take care of his falling issues but they didn’t have to call 9-1-1, and his wife could help him. He didn’t have to go to a nursing home," Boucher said. There is sports rehab across the street, she said.

"They see young people who are in sports. You know, those individuals want to get back to the field or the court," she said. "It’s rewarding to see them be able to do that."

Therapists work to get high risk premature babies, who have serious illnesses, to suck so they can eat; they also help facilitate normal development by moving and positioning the limbs, working with body strengthening, and increasing mobility.

"Sometimes you have to get the child to unclench their feet and fists, to get the child to move and relax, to improve mobility," she said.

It is preventive therapy, she explained, so that the child won’t get stuck in a balled up or clenched position. "You can help a lot of people, but we can’t help everyone. A car accident, or surgery, can leave people with chronic pain, so we try to help them control the pain, versus the pain controlling them, and sometimes we’re helpful, and sometimes we’re not."

Boucher feels that recovery has a lot has to do with the person’s attitude.

"There is a lot to be said about the power of positive thinking."

With insurance, there is more focus on preventive measures. However, for people who have osteoporosis, if it’s on an X-ray, it’s really too late. A bone density test will pick up subtle changes in the bone.

"Coming to therapy and learning exercises to keep the bones strong, it’s helpful, to prevent rounded shoulders, a hunched back, or breaking a hip, or getting a fractured spine. Most people think about physical therapy after an injury, but I don’t think people think about preventive measures before injury," Boucher said.

Boucher said stretching and strengthening all of the body is important.

"There are equilibrium challenges in therapy, and it’s important to retrain the center of gravity to prevent getting to the point of no return and falling," she said.

Sometimes falling is caused by weakness in the muscles.

"People with leg weakness have trouble getting out of a chair. No strength is required to walk, but it is required to get out of a chair," she said.

Prevention is good for an older, aging population, for people in their 50s, 60s, and beyond, she said. Once people pass their teens, bones will not rebuild themselves.

"Even with all our technology, there will always be a need for physical therapists. Loss of independence is difficult. We have to be a cheerleader and motivate those who are not motivated," she said. "The patients can be inspiring too, because of a positive, can-do attitude. The people who are positive about their rehabilitation and have a lot of family support seem to get better faster." Boucher doesn’t always get to see the results of her work. Very often, the stop for physical therapy is only a weigh station to someplace else. When she does get to act a part in the recovery of a patient, and when she gets to see that, it’s rewarding, and a simple "thank you" speaks volumes, she said.