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Physical Therapy for Older Adults, What I Learned

Updated on April 20, 2013

Great Exercise Room!

Senior Exercise Room in Sun City
Senior Exercise Room in Sun City | Source

Bicycle Machine

Oiling your knee!  Easier to control difficulty with a machine.
Oiling your knee! Easier to control difficulty with a machine. | Source

My First Day at Physical Therapy

Recently, I began taking physical therapy due to arthroscopic knee surgery. I had a tear in my knee meniscus. I am fortunate to live in a day and time where the surgery exists that will correct this nasty problem and the subsequent physical therapists exist that will guide you back to walking again!

These are my observations.

For my first day at P/T, I hobbled in on crutches not at all sure of what, if anything, that I could do! My surgery was less than two weeks old and my whole leg was swollen and it hurt. Basically, the physical therapist assessed my condition and had me do very little. Well, okay that worked.

The second appointment did not go very well. I had a great deal of pain and could do little of what was asked of me. This frustrated my physical therapist. I sensed that the physical therapist was judging me as an inept old lady who just did NOT want to do the exercises. He was exasperated at me. It was clear to me that he thought I was faking or inept. He kept telling me about pain management.

Now, I don't know about you but every time I see an advertisement where there is a runner who claims….”….look just out of knee surgery and because of xyz Rx, I can run already!” THAT is stupid. You may be in a hurry to heal but your body needs time!! You can further damage by working it out before it is ready.

But then I did not have physical education in my day that told me to work through the pain. Heck, I had little physical education in the late 1960s. All I remember were the horrible one piece blue jumpers we were forced to wear.

The fact is I am a can-do person. I am a type A achiever. My main emotion about tearing my meniscus was just plain being pissed off (sorry for the term but it does best suit my opinion about all of this.) I have things to do. I have no time for this set back in my busy life. Umm, well, too bad.

So, as soon as I could I was going to be back on my feet, uh knee, and doing the things that I loved to do which included lots of walking, dancing, and yoga.

Still, there was something going on in that room that was puzzling. That is when I started tuning into the room. I observed a very different tactic towards exercising both in the male and female patients and a very different tactic in handling the men and the women by the physical therapists.

What was going on? Why did many of the women patients have that deer in the headlights fear in their eyes when beginning a new exercise or machine? Why did the men not have that fear?

We women are not immune to pain in life. We give birth after all! However, most of the women in the room were older and did not have the benefit of well run physical exercise classes from their youth like the men did. In fact, I am a before Title IX woman too.


Swimming or pool walking.
Swimming or pool walking. | Source

Exercise platform

You may not be allowed to get on the floor for awhile! Yet you need to do floor exercises.  The scale is here just to scare you.
You may not be allowed to get on the floor for awhile! Yet you need to do floor exercises. The scale is here just to scare you. | Source

Seniors Taking Physical Therapy

The senior men all came in and seemed pretty aggressive and pragmatic about the physical therapy they were taking. The senior women seemed to be more fearful and less trusting. They had not tried most of the machines and had little history of standard physical exercise classes.

In short much of this was new to them and asking them to perform exercises on machines that were totally foreign to them made them seem to be incapable. (Caveat, some women did have exercise advantages but they were the minority and were lucky.)

I was also skeptical about most of the ‘new to me’ exercises for my knee. I would gingerly try and exercise first. The men seemed so much more confident.

Why? Women are certainly not less confident by nature. Was it nature or nurture? The women of my generation and certainly the younger generations are told they can do anything they want and that they are equals. However, you need opportunities to exercise the ‘you can do anything you want’ brain and body!

I looked around and saw a room full of men and women who were exposed to athletics as children before Title Nine. Women had few advantages in exercise classes and organized sports before Title IX and men had every advantage their school had in exercise classes, and organized sports.

This was not the world that the younger physical therapists had grown up in. Talk about a generation gap that was causing all kinds of misunderstandings!!

Title Nine

Again, what I was witnessing were the experiences of the before Title IX physical exercise world with the completely different experiences of the after Title IX physical exercise experiences. The Physical Therapists were all very young and several of them did not know what Title IX was or how dramatically Title IX changed the opportunities for women to begin a healthy attitude and knowledge of exercising from their childhood experiences forward.

Pre Title IX women simply did not have the opportunities in physical exercise that the men did.

Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, Public Law No. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235 (June 23, 1972), codified at 20 U.S.C. sections 1681 through 1688, U.S. legislation also identified its principal author's name as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act. It states (in part) that

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance...

For more information I urge you to read

NO Women Allowed!

After Title IX Success!

High School Physical Exercise Opportunities for Women Before Title IX

During one of my sessions the Phoenix Mercury Professional Women’s Basketball team was drafting new team members. My physical therapist, a young man, knew all about it and told me that the wonderful player, Brittney Griner from the Baylor Bears would be the first pick. He also knew all about the U. Conn women’s basketball successes.

I can remember when sports radio announcers denigrated women’s basketball and asked who would want to watch second rate basketball? Heck, women are still made to feel badly if they grow too tall!

When I played basketball in high school we had to stand in zones and pass the ball as the overall exertion may be bad for our later duties of child bearing. Seriously.

The history of women’s exercise and team sports opportunities is replete with egregious inequalities. Women had fewer opportunities to exercise and develop lifelong healthy physical exercise routines prior to 1972 and Title IX. They (we) were regulated to the smaller gym, offered only the l leftover times for EVERY sports field, swim pool, and received the older used equipment after the priority of the boys. The equipment was not even designed for the size and scope of the female body.

The exercise costumes were ugly, uncomfortable, and cheaply made. Contrast that with today's beautiful and well designed exercise wear for women.

In fact, physical exercise was often deemed un-lady like and discouraged in general by society. A physical exercise major would be scorned and maybe even called ugly hurtful names. She would most certainly be lower on the list of most likely to get a date and have a fun high school experience.

Then there was the concern that a woman should ‘not exercise during her time of the month.’ I am not kidding, for all of you younger readers that may think this is from the 1800’s! This was the 1960’s.

To play Ladies Field Hockey in the 1960's was a fate that included never dating and being snickered at.

This simply was not the time or place where accomplished and beautiful female athletes were even considered much less groomed.

Simply put, women ran a mile because President John Kennedy said we should. We did it in the older smaller less ventilated and windowed gym too. We did not have opportunities to do much more than this. Oh, but we did take dance classes and walk with books on our heads Seriously, again!

Take a look at one of the first women marathon runners. The runners harassed her and the guy ripping at her number and telling her to ‘get out of my race’ was one of the race directors. The guy fighting for her was her boyfriend, so not all men were as backward! (This is the video above that says NO Women Allowed!)

Knowing History is Power…..

Not only is this interesting to me. It is also a lesson that will help anyone working with women (who were educated before Title IX became law.) This knowledge will make those working with the pre-Title IX women more powerful in the ability to help these women.

It is also a lesson mostly forgotten. Equality makes us better people.

And, BTW, the knee is doing well. Even though I think it is taking too long to get back to normal!


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    • NMLady profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks for your visit Hope this is a bit of a help for P/T. pstraubie48

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      5 years ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for sharing this. My sister has had quite a bit of physical therapy and she still does go. This is very interesting. The history lesson was an added bonus.

      thanks for sharing Sending Angels your way this evening.

      Voted up and shared. :) ps

    • NMLady profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      Thanks for the visit and the kind words.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      I found this most interesting...Learned some things about physical therapy.....I love the history lesson also. Voted UP+++


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