Dr. Aaron Swanson Talks on How to Offer High-Quality Physical Therapy

Dr. Aaron Swanson

Dr. Aaron Swanson, DPT, CSCS, FMS, TPI, FRR, received a degree in exercise science from the University of Tennessee and his doctorate in physical therapy from New York University. He offers physical therapy, movement and sports performance enhancement and wellness consultations through his practice, The A&G Project, based in Milton, Ga.

We recently checked in with Dr. Swanson to learn more about his philosophy for treating patients and get his advice and insight for students on becoming a professional physical therapist. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us about your practice. What sets you apart from other practitioners in your area?

We are physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and movement experts. Our goal is to help people feel better and move better.

We accomplish this by adapting to our clients, not by making our clients adapt to us. With hour-long one-on-one treatments and an eclectic approach we are able to meet, and surpass, the demands of many individuals. One hundred percent of the focus is on the individual in front of us.

We don’t multi-task, we don’t treat dogmatically, we don’t use aids/or techs.

We use our expertise to collaborate with the client to achieve their goals and maximize their potential.

We’d like to talk about a patient success story you’re especially proud of. Tell us about the patient. How did they learn about your practice?

I think all physical therapists have plenty of success stories. Physical Therapy is one of the best modalities for improving others’ quality of life. With this approach many people will get better. So can one case study really describe success?

I guess I could discuss resolving an ankle sprain with a sural neurodynamic mobilization, back pain treated with one exercise, a repositioning corrective that resolved hip pain/tightness in less than three minutes, a series of exercises that helped patients avoid surgery, or an athlete who was able to compete after a short stint in rehab.

But I’ve had more satisfaction with the cases that are a struggle. The cases where the person has seen more than seven other medical professionals. The cases where the person is questioning your methods. The cases that take a great deal of persistence, dedication and commitment. The cases that force you do dig deeper. The cases that don’t go smoothly, but eventually result in the patient achieving their goal.

These are the cases that take a great deal of biomechanical, physiological, and psychological knowledge and application. It’s the act of taking a complex problem, finding a complex solution, and then trying to translate it in a simple way to help the patient.

It’s very rewarding to take someone with no hope to a place where they feel safe again. To me, that is the definition of a success story.

Why do patients come to your practice? What problems are they experiencing?

Ninety-five percent of the patients are in my clinic because they want to have less pain. There are a maybe 5 percent that just want to move better.

In a perfect world, physical therapy would be like dentistry. You would go a couple times a year to get your movement assessed. This would save healthcare a ton of money. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to prevent injuries and pain than it is to rehab them.

How did you go about diagnosing patients?

My evaluations sometimes last up to 90 minutes. Even after the initial diagnosis, I am constantly re-assessing and evolving my diagnosis. Throughout the treatments the diagnosis may not change, but the key to success is in identify the causes and the patient specific pattern that is the culprit of their dysfunction/pain.

How do you decide on your treatment course?

We make a great effort to stay on the forefront of our profession. We have taken over 50 courses, read several books a year and read articles almost daily. This dedication allows for an eclectic approach with a plethora of treatment options for the patient.

A thorough evaluation and open communication helps ensure that the patient will receive the treatment they need. Not the treatment I can give. And often, that is the difference between average physical therapy and great physical therapy.

What is the impact of your treatment on your patients? How does it help him or her?

The best impact I can have on patients is to immediately improve their quality of life. To abolish their pain and help them resume their normal activities. This is often the easier part.

The long-term goal is to improve their lifespan through education and movement. If someone moves better, they’ll move more. If they move more, they’ll be happier and live longer. This is the more difficult part.

What advice would you give PT students today? For instance, looking back at your own career is there anything you would do differently?

My advice to PT students is to have an open mind, always try to learn more, take a ton of classes, don’t subscribe to just one approach, focus on biomechanics/physiology/psychology, and to learn from your patients.

Understanding the human species requires a great breadth of knowledge. Be sure to expand beyond the professional peer reviewed articles.

Please talk about any ways you are trying to impact the community you’re a part of by ..

… Mentoring/Teaching:

I have always had students come into shadow and observe. This has been very rewarding and I have learned a lot from these individuals as well.

I also maintain a professional blog (www.aaronswansonpt.com) that has a great deal of free information for anyone wanting to dig deeper into health and movement. Our Facebook page has a tremendous amount of information as well.

… Community involvement/awareness:

My goal in the next year is to expand into the community with movement classes. I feel that this may be an easier way for people to access and learn about health and movement. The group classes will also allow a more affordable approach, which is becoming more important in our current socioeconomic dilemma.

… Working with veterans or the disabled:

We offer discounts for veterans and the disabled. These people are often the best patients as their resilience and dedication is inspirational.

What is the funniest thing, if any, that has happened to you in practice?

Every time someone passes gas during when sitting up from the table the inner 13 year old in me comes out. I sometimes have to literally bite my tongue to make sure I don’t laugh.

Anything (that you care to admit) that you would never do again?

I had a friend who always said, “Good judgement comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgement”. I can’t say that there is anything I would do differently because it would change who I am today and what I’ve learned from the past.

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