Mindfulness & Physical Therapy

by Morgan Hoffman-Smith (Ithaca College SPT)


What is mindfulness?


“The state, process, and practice of remembering to observe moment-to-moment experiences with openness and without automatic patterns of previously conditioned thoughts, emotions, or behaviors”-American Mindfulness Research Association. Mindfulness is a state of mind. A state of mind that is not only used as a temporary fix to stressful situations, but one that is achieved and engraved into an automatic and unconscious process of thinking. Mindfulness can be learned and practiced by observing the present moment as is, turning judgements into acknowledgements, taking time to breathe, and slowing down. Mindfulness can not only improve one’s quality of life but can be used to create greater patient outcomes and help obtain the full benefits of rehabilitation both for the patient and therapist.


Physical therapists can optimize their quality of care by achieving a mindful state of mind. Important components of mindfulness in physical therapy are treating the whole patient instead of just their impairment, modifying your ways of practice to cater to how your patients may benefit the most, treating every patient with an open mind, taking each as a new experience, acknowledging yourself, your patients and your environment instead of judging them. Once physical therapists achieve a mindful state of mind, they can in turn teach their patients. Start with teaching them self-care, de-stressing techniques, how to slow down, and how to be present. Research shows that patients with low back pain that went through mindfulness-based interventions (MBI’s) had significant improvements in their self-reported outcome measures compared to the control group, scores showing 60.5% for the intervention group compared to 44.9% for the control group on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RDQ). Further evidence shows patients with chronic migraine and headaches that went through mindfulness-based therapy had a more significant decrease in frequency of headaches compared to the control group. Going from pre-treatment 11.04 days to posttreatment 9.37 days for the intervention group compared to pre-treatment 9.82 days to posttreatment 9.65 days for the control group. (Majeed MH, Ali AA, Sudak DM mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: Evidence and applications, Asian J Pyschiatr. 2018; 32:79-83).


Mindfulness can start by just taking more time for yourself daily, progressing to eventually switching your mindset from being mindless to mindful with everything you do. Mindfulness can make you feel calmer, kinder, more patient, and will enable you to maximize your enjoyment, which will translate to an increased quality of life, which can then translate into everything you do such as having better practice and creating better patient outcomes.


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