Although the first few months of the project were done through researching and taking notes, I am finally transitioning into seeing how the things I have learned can be applied to real life examples. I was able to set up the first session with my mentor next Friday after school, and Travis was kind enough to arrange his schedule so that teaching will work out better.  So far, I have looked at information on the knees and shoulders, and will be continuing my research on the shoulders in the time leading up to the session.

I was also fortunate in being able to attend one of Ms.Mulder’s physiotherapy sessions before school to see how to treat her shoulder injury. Her physio taught me all about the spine and how it is connected to other parts of the body, and is involved with different injuries.

Photo from

He brought out a flexible model of a spine, labeled with letters and numbers which I had previously learned was used to name the vertebrae of the spine. He explained that a healthy spine should have four curves. The pelvic curvature is the curve of the bottom of the spine, including the first 5 vertebrae (S1-S5). The next curve is the lumbar curvature, including vertebrae L1-L5. The thoracic curvature is the large curve in the middle of the spine, including vertebrae T1-T12. Finally, the cervical curvature is vertebrae C1-C8 at the top of the spine.

As he twisted the model left and right, he demonstrated how certain parts stretched and gaps widened between the vertebrae. He mentioned that physiotherapists do not manipulate the neck since there is a risk of bending it so that a major artery that carries blood to the brain may be blocked. This can cause the patient to have a stroke. Fortunately, he also mentioned that there is a system called the Circle of Willis which has the ability to circulate blood to the different areas of the brain in the chance that one of the arteries is blocked.

Photo from

At the base of the spine is a large bone called the sacrum, and he told me a story on how the bone got its name:

Back when people were burned for being accused of witchcraft, they would tie the accused to stakes and set them over a fire. As their bodies began to burn from the bottom up, all of their body fluids would flow downwards and cool down the large, triangular bone at the base of the spine. After the body was completely burned and the fire was put out, a pile of ash would be left over. However, since the sacrum had been cooled, it was left intact. The people believed that it was a sacred bone since it did not burn along with the rest of the body, and therefore, named the bone “sacrum” or “sacred” in Latin.

Photo from

He also showed me how electric current can be used to loosen muscles and help treat injuries. He used a device with four wires attached, and applied a jell-like substance to the pads on the ends. The jell was meant to distribute the current evenly, and allow the device to be more effective. He applied it to Ms.Mulder’s upper back, and asked her to set the current to an appropriate level for about 10 minutes.

The entire appointment took about 30 minutes. It was interesting to see the techniques and methods used in an actual clinic, and made me look forward to visiting my own mentor’s clinic in a week.

A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see one of my old classmates, Waleed, after class. After hearing about my project, he mentioned that his brother, Hussam, was a physiotherapist and was kind enough to provide me with contact information in case I wanted to ask him questions. I emailed Hussam and set up an interview over the phone. The purpose of the interview was to find out more about what a physiotherapist does, and what it would be like as a future career possibility. The interview took slightly less than 10 minutes, but gave me some valuable insight.

How did you decide on becoming a physiotherapist? Was there anything that sparked an interest in this field of study?

“Initially what sparked an interest was just the general field of medicine. I always enjoyed sciences and medicine. I was always interested in the way the body works, how it functions, and how it recovers.”
Hussam explained how he originally wanted to go into a different field of medicine, but ended up deciding that he preferred physiotherapy:
“For the longest time I wanted to become a doctor, but I saw this opportunity to volunteer at a physiotherapy clinic that was attached to the gym I worked out at. After starting to volunteer there and seeing different approaches that you can take to medicine— the way physiotherapists work with clients on a very intimate basis, one on one, and it wasn’t prescription [or] reliant on medication— I really became interested in the ability to be able to allow someone to get better and improve themselves while not having to be so passive in their care.”
Which programs did you take in order to study to become a physiotherapist?
Hussam studied at UBC in order to become a physiotherapist.
“I did a four year undergraduate in University, and then after that, I did a two years Masters of physiotherapy. Then I had to write a licensing exam in order to become a licensed physiotherapist.”
Are you currently studying or continuing your education? Do you plan on doing so in the future?

“I’m always looking for courses to continue my education. Two years ago, I took my dry-needling course. It’s similar to acupuncture, but it is something called intro-muscular stimulation [or IMS].”

Hussam also mentioned a course he took, which I thought sounded familiar and related to what I had been studying in regards to the ICF (International Classification of Functioning and Disability).

“I also took a course on functional movement which is a way to get the body to go through different movement patterns and then you assess the movement patterns based on how well someone can do them, and also whether or not pain exists while someone is doing them. That’s a really good way to allow you to distinguish whether someone is having painful movements, whether someone is having dysfunctional movement, and allows you to hone in on where the problem is, and then be able to work towards treating it.”

My mentor explained that physiotherapists can work publicly (in places such as a hospital), or privately (in a clinic or by going to their patient’s house). Do you work as a private or public physiotherapist? Did you ever consider the other option?

“I currently work privately. When I first graduated, I was considering working in the public sector just because of the stability in regards to the hours, the clients, and your salary. But once I got into the private sector, I started building my case load and I started growing, so I never felt a need to make a change to the public sector.”

Waleed had told me that Hussam works at a clinic, and also sometimes drives to his patient’s houses to treat them at home.

In any job you do, there are obstacles you must overcome. What are certain challenges that come with being a physiotherapist, both on a daily basis and in the long term?

“Two main obstacles stand out for me. Number one, sometimes it’s very hard working with clients in general. People in general can be difficult to work with. I don’t mean their attitude or their personality, but sometimes it’s just very hard to get people to follow through with what you want them to do.”

I understand how difficult it can be to stick to a specific exercise schedule, so it is easy to see why it can be difficult to see results when the patient has not been following the physiotherapist’s suggestions.

“When you go to a doctor, it’s easy to take medication. It’s very simple. You open up the package or you open up your vile, you take it, then you’re done. But with physio, oftentimes it’s needing to take time out of your day to stretch or to do specific exercises, and sometimes not everyone is very compliant with those orders, and so it makes our job a little more difficult.

There are also internal obstacles that you must learn to cope with when you work as a physiotherapist.

“I would say the second obstacle is just getting over your own personal struggle with understanding that you’re not going to heal everybody. I think oftentimes people go into medicine thinking they’re going to heal everyone and everyone is going to get better. But the reality of it is not everybody you treat is always going to get better, and you always have to be okay with that and understand that you’re doing the best you can to give people the best possible outcome that is available to them.”

Is there any advice you can provide for someone interested in possibly studying this as a career?

My number one piece of advice would be to get in contact with a physiotherapist, to see what the job is actually like, and get an idea of what you need to do in order to be prepared to do the school work. Last but not least, I would definitely go and volunteer at a physiotherapy clinic and shadow a physiotherapist so that I can see what they do on a daily basis, what’s involved with the work, and that way, I can get myself a better idea as to whether or not I want to actually do this job, and what it actually entails as opposed to just reading about it or watching it in a movie.”

After the interview was over, I thanked him for his time, and was left with lots of new information to consider. I am happy with how much I have learned over the past week, and will continue through this project with an open mind!