By Kate Vander Wiede

A fall at the post office led the independent-minded Hope Andrew to seek physical therapy

Hope Andrew’s kids had been bothering her for awhile to go to physical therapy, which they thought would help fix the shoulder pain she’d been experiencing. She wasn’t having it.  “I just told them, ‘I’m not going to therapy, it’ll just torment me. Just let me lay here and be a couch potato,’” Hope recalled.

Then, at the start of March, Hope fell at the post office and strained her back, requiring her to walk with a cane, and making it hard for her to walk at all, something that was tough for her – an independent 91-year-old whose favorite thing to do was drive around in her convertible with the top down and her dog in the passenger’s seat.

Now with two problems – her back and her shoulder – and her kids and orthopedist suggesting physical therapy, Hope finally decided to make an appointment. Having heard good things about Performance Physical Therapy, she made an appointment at the Richmond clinic near her house, where physical therapist Dr. Andrew Horton was set to take her in.

“She was not the typical 91-year-old,” said Dr. Horton of Hope. “Usually the 90-year-olds we see have people who bring them to their appointments, and they need help getting around. But Hope does it all on her own.”

Though she was skeptical about physical therapy and its ability to help her, Hope liked Dr. Horton and the team right off the bat, noting that he, the physical therapy assistant Sarah Shoen, the exercise specialist Briana Pina, and the rest of the staff were all thoughtful, flexible, and knowledgeable.

During her first few visits, Dr. Horton and his team helped correct Hope’s cane use – like many people do, she was using her cane on the wrong side and at the wrong height. At the same time, they started following a plan to reduce the pain in her back and hip and strengthen her lower body and core. But nevertheless, the first few visits Hope had at the Richmond office didn’t seem to be yielding results.

“After the first few visits,” Dr. Horton said, “Hope would say she wasn’t feeling any better and that she had a lot of pain.” He wasn’t sure if physical therapy was really helping her. But then, all the sudden, things shifted. “She turned a corner and started feeling better. We all just had to be a little patient,” Dr. Horton said.

Now that things were moving, Dr. Horton and Shoen started working with Hope on more stretches and exercises. They started with stretches on the table, which didn’t require any strength or balance, and as her mobility improved, Hope started working while seated or standing. From lower trunk rotations and hip and back stretches, she gradually added in bridging and marching exercises, sit-to-stands, squats and resisted side-stepping.

Within just five weeks, instead of the eight to ten that Dr. Horton expected, Hope had almost graduated from physical therapy for her hip and back and was getting ready to start working on her shoulder. Dr. Horton said that Hope was great to work with.

“She trusted the process and knew it would take time and that she had to do her exercises consistently, even if she still felt pain,” Dr. Horton said. “To work with someone that age who is still very motivated to be independent and has a positive outlook on things, it made her extra fun to treat.”

Hope, meanwhile, said she couldn’t even express how much she appreciated Dr. Horton and the Richmond team for helping her heal fast and move better. “They listened, they’re thoughtful and they know what they’re doing,” she said, adding that physical therapy has also had other less tangible benefits in her life.

“I told Dr. Horton that you ought to have one more sign up on your bulletin board that says physical therapy doesn’t just improve your physical health, but your mental health too,” Hope said. “I feel better now than I ever have before. I’m able to get out there and not pity myself and to do something about my pain.” She paused, then added. “It’s never too late to keep at it.”