Let’s Get Physical

Ivan Hernandez, founder of Executive Park Physical Therapy in Elmsford and Yonkers.

Why did you become a physical therapist?
I attended Gorton High School in Yonkers, a magnet school that offered a pre-med curriculum. It included trips to local hospitals. I distinctly remember going to the rehab portion of St. Joseph’s Medical Center. The speaker explained physical therapy in a way that made me gravitate toward it.

You’re a doctor of physical therapy?
Yes. I was actually in NYU’s inaugural clinical doctorate program, which started in 1998. I was part of the first graduating class in 2001. At the time, there may have been fewer than ten colleges in the country offering the doctoral program. But now it’s mandated. There are hundreds of schools today that offer the program.

Can you treat patients directly?
Legislation passed in 2007 allows physical therapists at the doctoral level with a certain minimum level of clinical experience to examine and treat a patient without a prescription or physician referral. The challenge has been getting insurance companies to pay for it.

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What is the number-one reason people come for physical therapy?
Backs. Eighty percents of all adults will have back pain. Our erect posture places a great demand of compressive stress on our lumbar spinal segments, predisposing us to injury. The second most common physical ailment is shoulder pain. he shoulder, being very mobile, produces an inherent lack of stability, which also predisposes us to shoulder injury.

What’s the diagnosis with the best prognosis?
A diagnosis that’s treated in its acute stage will more likely respond favorably than a diagnosis that’s treated once it reaches its chronic stage.

What should you look for to determine if a physical therapist is well qualified?
First, the school a PT went to—I have seen great students coming out of NYU, Columbia, and NYMC; second, the number of years of experience; and third, any of several board certifications that the clinician would have.

What’s the most dangerous thing people do that lands them in your office?
Most of the injuries we see are rarely caused by a traumatic event. Most are the result of cumulative micro stress—the subtle everyday things people do that unknowingly cause a subtle breakdown of a joint or tissue.

Can physical therapy help people with arthritis who have joint pain?
We’re not going to be able to reverse the degenerative changes that occurred in the joint itself. But physical therapy will treat the joint and all the surrounding tissue in such a way that pain is reduced, motion is restored, and strength is regained.

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What’s the biggest misconception people have about physical therapy?
Many think of us as massage therapists or physical trainers, or a combination of the two.

Any advice for those considering going into physical therapy?
Make sure your mom and dad pay at least fifty percent of your schooling. Ten years down the line, I’m still paying off student loans.

The New York Times had a recent article calling physical therapy voodoo medicine. Your reaction?
That’s an outrageous, over-generalized claim.

Have you ever needed physical therapy?
Yes, I had a knee procedure done because of ‘jumper’s knee,’ as a result of playing lots and lots of sports. I ended up requiring surgery, followed by physical therapy.

Photo by John Rizzo

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