Physical Therapy

6 Must-Read Books for Future Physical Therapists

6 Must-Read Books for Future Physical Therapists
Add these books to your career curriculum and be one step closer to a future in healthcare. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly November 5, 2019

What do a laugh-inducing memoir, a bestselling case study, and an unconventional textbook have in common? In this case, your career plans.

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Like government, currency, and confusing modern art, physical pain comes in many forms. We’ve all felt it, whether the torment of a recent sports injury, the onset of carpal tunnel, or nagging soreness in your back that develops around noon every workday. The fact that it’s different for everyone is undoubtedly true. But the sooner we seek help for our pain, the higher all of our chances are at keeping it at bay.

Here’s where physical therapists are essential, with extensive training in therapeutic and functional exercise to help reduce patients’ discomfort and improve their mobility—and even avoid surgery and the use of prescription pain relief. For those in the field, education and clinical experience are as necessary as empathy, especially when working with patients who may feel vulnerable, embarrassed, or at a low point in recovery. Constant learning matters too, not only to maintain licensure but to keep up on the latest in physical therapy research and healthcare.

If you’re considering the field of physical therapy but in need of some direction, we’ve rounded up books that focus on a variety of knowledge, skills, and perspectives to help motivate and guide you. From health science and psychological fiction to autobiography and humor, they offer firsthand experience from experts in the field—as well as a look at the social and ethical complexities of physical therapy. Add them to your career curriculum and be one step closer to a future in healthcare.

Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, Corrective Strategies by Gray Cook

When significant injuries sidetracked a promising football career, Gray Cook focused his attention on the world of strength and fitness, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree degree and orthopedic specialist certification. His writing revisits the natural developmental principles that infants employ as they learn to walk, run, and climb to help readers understand how the brain and body create and learn movement patterns. By diving into the nitty-gritty of how the muscles affect posture, compensatory strain, and pain patterns, he explains the importance of functional movement and exercise as a means of improving the quality of patients’ lives and dramatically lowering their chance of injury.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Neuroscientist Lisa Genova puts her immense expertise of the brain to incredible use with a story rooted in the cognitive disorder, “Left Neglect,” which, in layperson’s terms, is the brain’s inability to perceive anything on the left of the body. Her novel’s hyper-ambitious narrator, Sarah Nickerson, first experiences the condition after losing control of her car on a rainy morning commute. When she wakes up from brain surgery eight days later, the entire left side of her world is gone.

While the novel’s introduction paints an energizing portrait of Sarah’s perfectly-managed, put-together life, what follows provides a valuable up-close-and-personal take on what it’s like to cope with a severe cognitive handicap and the many psychosocial challenges that tend to mark the path to recovery.

Run, Don’t Walk: The Curious and Chaotic Life of a Physical Therapist Inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center by Adele Levine

In her debut memoir, Adele Levine retells her experience as a physical therapist at the U.S. Army’s former flagship medical center with dazzling storytelling, dark humor, and an oddball cast characters. Her vignettes describe six years of painstaking work helping the facility function and, more importantly, listening to the war stories and poignant personal histories of patients filling its rooms.

Working in a glassed-in fishbowl gymnasium, Levine treats hundreds of patients every week, including soft-spoken Kai, who self-medicates with chocolate, good-natured Juan, who’s intent on perfecting his walk, as well as the young and foul-mouthed Cosmo. Readers develop a sense of loyalty to all of the book’s major players, including the author, who spares no detail shedding light on the reality of not just the patient-care experience in an enormous medical complex, but the camaraderie that’s so integral to recovery.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks described himself as a “physician and naturalist,” but may be best-known for turning diagnosis into an incredibly entertaining lesson on a variety of neurological disorders. Thirty years after publishing this collection of neurological case histories, they continue to serve as a benchmark for fascinating and accessible clinical writing.

The book comprises essays split into four sections, each dealing with a particular aspect of brain function. In each, Sacks highlights several stories of patients suffering from a disease corresponding to mental losses, excesses, transports, and “the world of the simple.” By combining the ideas of the conscious and unconscious, memory and imagination, medication, and perception with the personal side of neurosis, Dr. Sacks helps readers consider how the different parts of the brain work together and what happens when they stop cooperating. Most importantly, his work highlights why the quality of patients’ care always wins out over a theoretical approach.

Explain Pain by David S. Butler and G. Lorimer Moseley

An unconventional textbook of sorts, this title is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about the theories, concepts, research, and language of pain. Or better yet, the idea that the more we understand pain, the less we will hurt.

By referencing knowledge gained from advances in neurophysiology, brain imaging, psychology, and cellular biology, Butler and Moseley argue that instead of describing pain with daunting and imprecise language, we’re better off seeing it as a protective bodily mechanism that sometimes gets out of hand. By contextualizing it in terms of our individual thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, the authors offer a new method for how patients can think of pain—and how healthcare teams deal with it.

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

Leslie Jamison’s award-winning collection of quasi-fictional essays pose many questions about not just empathy, but how we empathize. How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain? Why do we need others to acknowledge our pain?

Jamison’s analysis includes both the sick and healthy, differentiating between their reactions to pain, and connecting their reactions to factors like the strength of their social support networks. She draws from her own experiences of illness and injury, including her time getting paid to act out symptoms for medical students, as well as a range of situations far beyond her life. From start to finish, her work acts as a call for healthcare professionals—and the rest of us—to act with compassion in everything we do

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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