Aside from her love of Game of Thrones, terrariums and soft cheese, Annabel is passionate about disability issues and advocacy.

Sometimes I just want to lie on the couch all day and watch Game of Thrones. I don’t want to stretch my hamstrings or gluteal muscles. But as someone who has Cerebral Palsy, ignoring an exercise regime isn’t going to improve back pain or muscle weakness.

If you have a disability, you’re more likely to need to see a range of specialists and allied health professionals. I’ve tried massage therapy, acupuncture, and traditional Chinese medicine to little avail, but hydrotherapy, exercise physiology and physiotherapy have offered the best results for me. However, seeking out the right physiotherapist or exercise physiologist isn’t an activity that immediately screams fun to most people. Stephen King once wrote about his experiences with physical therapy, or ‘PT’, as more akin to ‘pain and torture’!

Here are the top 5 things that are important to me when finding a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist:

Autonomy: When it came to finding a good physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, a sense of empowerment and a focus on my own input had the most positive impact on me. I like to have an input on the right exercises I will do in order to strengthen my muscles. I have also found that understanding how an exercise will help improve my back pain or strengthen my core gives me more incentive to practice my exercises.

Sometimes when I am feeling really nerdy, I look up Wikipedia articles on muscles of the leg. Two hours and twenty new browser tabs later, I’ve ended up learning muscles I never even knew existed! It really helps give me context to the exercises I do.

Respect: I’m not the only person with a disability who has felt as if they’ve been treated like a medical professional’s fascinating case to crack, like a character out of House MD. Nor do I enjoy being treated like a child, unable to voice an opinion regarding my own treatment options. No one likes to be patronised, especially if you’re already feeling frustrated about your disability and its symptoms. A good bedside manner is crucial in gaining my trust and confidence.

Routine: Seeing someone on a regular basis, whether it’s every few days, fortnight, or month has helped encourage me to continue with my exercises at home, and also track my progress. Many providers such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists offer home visits, which can make it easier for people, like myself, to get face-to-face contact and support. Some weekly group sessions that I’ve found suitable for my level of mobility include group exercise physiology sessions and aqua aerobics.

Creativity: The best providers I’ve worked with really understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for individual patients. For years, health care providers I’d been seeing were recommending a certain back exercise that works well on most people with lower back pain. However, doing the exercise was exacerbating my own back pain because of my weak abdominal core muscles. By understanding individual issues, using creative, tailored approaches to work around a patient’s limitations, the best providers have able to help me strengthen my weak muscles, without increasing the associated pain.

Passion: When a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist is passionate about their work and genuinely enjoys making a difference in people’s lives, it really shows. This plays an important role in ensuring you have a positive and productive experience with a provider. Having someone who can motivate you is crucial. You can bounce off the enthusiasm they have in assisting you to reach your goals, be it increased mobility, fitness, or flexibility.

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