Crossed Arm Syndrome
I understand the trend toward patient-empowerment, trying to build self-efficacy without risking dependency on the clinician. This has elevated the interventions of education and exercise over manual therapy in terms of best-practice recommendations for physical therapists.
As a long-term PT, I can understand this movement, but the trend comes at a price.
First off is the belief that manual therapy, viewed as a passive intervention, should be dosed sparingly as to not encourage dependency. In contrast, I contend that if manual therapy allows movement with less fear, pain, and caution, this, in itself, builds independence.
I do accept that more common view of PT is the exercise-based model, though I have HUGE issues with intellectual lazy PTs who blame weakness on pain. What I don’t and will not accept is an apparent lack of engagement on the part of my profession.
I have great respect for the time, patience, money, and emotional investment that a budding PT student makes to become a DPT, as it is not an easy path. But what are we building?
Recently I had dropped my car off for a service at a local repair facility. Rather than join the squad impatient chair-sitters, waiting for word of the bill in need of payment, I chose instead to take a long walk. This walk afforded me an opportunity to cruise through the nearby picturesque village, able to see the sights while getting my exercise. My walk took me past the village PT clinic…twice, once on my outbound journey, and again on my way back to the garage.
On my first pass, I was easily able to view a good handful of patients dutifully working out on at their respective stations, all seeming to be completely engaged in their tasks. But at the center of the facility, I viewed two individuals who I am assuming where the resident PTs. How did I know this?
Apparel, for one. They were the only ones NOT engaged.
Instead, they stood side by side, talking with each other, in the dreaded arms-crossed posture. Argh! OK, I thought, as I passed, maybe I caught them at a bad moment. Maybe it was a fluke. I’ll take a look on my way back, hoping that they would not be caught in such a compromising position.
The walk took me through the rest of the village and, with a bit of a divergence, along a roaring creek. Quite lovely. But as I again approached the PT clinic my suspicions rose and, sure enough, there they stood. Maybe they have moved and returned to the exact same spot to converse again…or maybe not. But there they stood, arms-crossed and conversing, while their patients dutifully went through their paces.
A PT may argue that those patients were engaged in self-helping behaviors, learning self-reliance, and building upon their own potential. Quite possibly.
But why did the PTs need to be standing there so unengaged? We can be more than arm crossers, we can be cheerleaders, encouragers, coaches, teachers, and, yes, occasionally, applying manual interventions. Self-reliance is key, but what has the PT profession become; a bunch of arm crossers? Manual therapy PT has its own skulls in the closet, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about arm crossing.
My bias is toward using manual therapy as a primary intervention and evidence exists for this as a viable treatment strategy. I strongly discourage dependency of any sort and abhor it in other professionals. My work is set up to empower my patient to feel like they can move and with less fear. I teach them to self-treat, based on my examples, and make it a strong encouragement to engage in the movement of their choosing. I recognize that a good majority of patients seen for exercise-based PT improve, though those that don’t often come through my door.
As a profession, PT and other similar professions, the view of us by the public matters. Arm-crossing and spending a good amount of your time conversing with your peer instead of your patient is simply a lame way to spend medical dollars, not to mention a very expensive education.
Next time I make that walk, my hope is to see PTs engaged with their patient. They may not be touching, using manual therapy as I do, but I hope to see them spending time speaking to their patients, coaching and encouraging, aiding and correcting, prescribing, and adapting. I hope to see them doing the things our profession(s) are capable of and not resorting to the stereotypes that pockmark our profession.
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Great post Walt! I believe all manual therapists should be taught about self-efficacy during their training. It’s harder to change habits that create dependency once they are entrenched. Learning how to create a clinical environment that pros promotes confidence and independence in clients is so important.
Hi Rachel, Thanks for the comments. All interventions, be they exercise/movement-based or manual therapy-based, pose a risk of fostering dependency. Much depends on how those interventions are presented and actualized.
Arm-crossing is, frankly, rude. Any PTs that I’ve seen here in NZ have been completely engaged in their client. I actually wouldn’t go back if arm-crossing was their MO.
Alas, PT varies from place to place. While I am not implying that standing around with arms-crossed is the norm in the US, the move toward self-efficacy has taken on strange interpretations by some clinicians.