My Story: Lisa Shaw
Life’s biggest obstacles often become an impetus for change. For me, dealing with a very personal problem led me to change the course of my professional career.
To back up just a little bit, I have been a physical therapist since 1998 and from day one, I’ve felt a strong calling to pediatrics. I poured myself into pediatrics and enjoyed every minute of it. I was blessed to be able to truly specialize in this area. I was in my comfort zone and a career change never crossed my mind. Then my third child was born, and I experienced what more than half of women experience: a body that did not function as it was supposed to.
Even as a PT, I was ill prepared to address the issues that I was dealing with. I did not quite understand the biomechanics of my weak core or shifted organs or the lack of “floor” support that I was experiencing. I returned to regular exercise after my first two babies without any difficulties, so I hoped that over time the problems I was facing would improve. But time did not turn out to be the solution, and my symptoms worsened. After tripping on an alphabet block in the middle of my kitchen floor, I began to experience tailbone pain on top of the existing low back and pelvic pain. My obstetrician was somewhat empathetic and referred me to physical therapy. Kudos to him. My first pelvic health PT focused on stretches for a tight muscle in my pelvic floor. My intuition told me that these exercises weren’t helping, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on why at the time. I resigned myself to the thought that surgery for the prolapse and incontinence would likely be the only solution for me.
A colleague highly encouraged me to see another pelvic health specialist, despite my protest that I had already tried pelvic floor therapy. I was convinced that PT was not the answer. My therapist (spoiler alert, her name is Blair) was very reassuring and spoke words that I had not expected: “I think I can help you.” From the beginning, this physical therapy was much different than my previous experience. A holistic approach, considering all of the body systems—with a combination of manual therapy and core retraining that included up-to-date treatment methods such as dry needling, Redcord, and Pilates-based exercises—led to almost immediate improvements. Within a month, I knew that surgery wasn’t going to be necessary. It took a few more months, but I made it back to work, back to some exercise, and back to doing all of the family activities I had previously avoided. In short, I had my life back. I was amazed with my experience and surprised by the lack of awareness I had—even as a PT—about women’s health issues.
I became frustrated with the lack of medical follow-up that women receive postpartum. (Did you know that in some countries, post-natal physical therapy is the standard of care?) I began sharing my story and talking about the benefits and success of physical therapy. My friends told me about their own postpartum issues, and I referred them to Blair. They would report back to me with tales of similar progress to what I had experienced. They, too, were astounded that such therapy exists and that women don’t seem to know about it. I learned that in many cases, problems in the spine, hips, and pelvis are connected to pelvic floor dysfunction. Traditional physical therapy doesn’t always examine the pelvic floor; thus, these impairments are often overlooked. I became an enthusiastic advocate for women’s health physical therapy (just ask the ladies from my neighborhood Bunco group about learning to do Kegels properly during cocktails).
Going through physical therapy was actually fun! I love learning new things and am a member of what we affectionately refer to as “The PT Nerd Club.” Blair and I would talk enthusiastically about research during my PT visits. I was amazed how my background in neurology, motor control, myofascial work, and respiratory therapy had so much in common with what we know about pelvic floor function. I began to ponder how my skillset might actually lend itself towards a women’s health practice with some additional training. But when Blair first suggested that I would make a good women’s health therapist, I laughed a little.
Could I really make a career change?
Blair offered to mentor me in this area if I were to pursue it, which is certainly an amazing opportunity, as she is one of the best. I took a few months to ponder and pray, and, with the full support of my amazing husband and family, took the leap in 2016. I was able to pursue a combined pelvic health certification and clinical doctorate, and I am proud to say that I have completed the certification and am just weeks away from completing the doctorate program. Throughout this training, I have worked with women’s health clients (in addition to keeping a part-time pediatrics practice) and have found it so rewarding. I recently had the privilege of hearing words spoken to me that I once spoke, and I fully understood the weight of their meaning: “You have given me my life back.”
I look forward to helping many, many more women with their physical therapy needs as a part of the team at Catalyst PT, and to working with my therapist, mentor, and friend, Blair Green.