While doctors have been on the frontlines saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, physiotherapists have been working hard to make sure those lives are worth living.
Now, registered physiotherapist (PT) and acupuncturist Andy Wang of ASAP Physio in Sudbury wants to shine a light on his profession as an essential service in the community.
Practitioners, he said, play an important role in creating healthy communities by educating and treating patients impacted by injury or illness, including COVID-19.
“Most physiotherapists are pretty humble. We don’t really get out there and promote ourselves. We have celebrated physicians, nurses, and PSWs. It’s about time for physiotherapists to go public so that people realize how important our services are,” said Wang, who is also the president of the northern district of the Ontario Physiotherapy Association.
“The idea is that we keep people moving and we keep people free of pain and dysfunction so they can enjoy their lives at home, at work, and at play.”
May was national physiotherapy month and practitioners across the country were celebrated for helping Canadians maintain and improve their physical wellbeing and manage and prevent injury and illness, according to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA).
As an integral part of the health-care system, PTs help their patients recover from any number of afflictions, including sports injuries and concussions, hip replacement surgery, sciatica, stroke, and cancer.
“There are three different pillars that physiotherapists can specialize in. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists, which is my area of expertise, treat muscle and joint conditions,” said Wang.
“I see anyone with neck and back pain or sports injuries, and those who have been involved in motor vehicle collisions or workplace accidents.”
Neurological physiotherapists, he continued, treat conditions that affect the brain and spinal cord like cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
“Finally, cardiovascular and pulmonary physiotherapists treat patients with cardiovascular disease, for example. They can also help patients with respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or those who contracted COVID-19.”
The essential services provided by physiotherapists during the pandemic were highlighted by the CPA last month in The Healing Series, where physiotherapists from across the country shared real stories related to the pandemic.
Jenna Howie, “a full-time physiotherapist working in an Ontario hospital ICU,” said that the pandemic reinvigorated her passion for helping Canadians through critical illness.
“It required patience to learn about the role of (a physiotherapist) in this specific patient population, but I am proud to say that we have helped liberate several patients from a ventilator and a large percentage have successfully transitioned out of the ICU,” she said in a story shared to the CPA website. (physiotherapy.ca/breathing-easy-physiotherapy)
Although Wang does not treat COVID-19 patients in his private practice, he said that he has helped those with COPD and asthma in the past.
“Sometimes acupuncture can help with those conditions in addition to teaching patients proper breathing techniques. Physiotherapists who work in hospitals and ICUs also have a number of techniques, like chest PT or diaphragmatic retraining, to help patients breathe better,” he said.
“After doing a detailed assessment to determine the nature of a patient’s illness or injury, we look at the whole person to create a treatment plan. This can include exercises and other appropriate treatments to help them get better.”
Wang established his physiotherapy practice in Sudbury in 2012. Before moving north, he was working as a physiotherapist at Seneca College in Toronto treating athletes.
But it wasn’t physiotherapy that brought him to Northern Ontario – in fact, Wang originally moved to take up the role of pastor at the Sudbury Chinese Evangelical Missionary Church.
“My first calling was to be a physiotherapist, and I graduated from Queen’s University in 1983. My second calling was to become a pastor in 1992, and I became a part-time pastor in 2001,” he said.
“Now, I serve as a pastor at Restoration Church in Val Caron, and I have a full physiotherapy practice.”
Wang uses a biomedical approach and evidence-based practices in the prevention and management of sports injuries and pain, and he prioritizes treating patients with dignity and respect.
He has experience treating elite athletes nationally and internationally, including Olympic gymnasts, and he offers hands-on, one-on-one treatment plans to restore normal function and mobility following disease or injury.
In his role as president of the northern district of the Ontario Physiotherapy Association, Wang also hopes to bring a voice to his profession. One of his long-term goals is to promote the establishment of a school of physiotherapy in Northern Ontario.
“Just like (former Sudbury mayor) Jim Gordon established the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM), my wish is to see something similar with physiotherapy,” he said.
“Right now, there are six schools of medicine in the province, and only five physiotherapy schools. There is no physiotherapy program at NOSM. We want to train physiotherapists in Northern Ontario to serve Northern Ontario.”
There is a big demand for physiotherapists in the north, he added, and a school will help fill that need.
Until then, Wang is busy completing his Doctorate of Science in physical therapy from Andrews University in Michigan, U.S., to add to his long list of credentials and he looks forward to continuing to serve the Sudbury community.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star