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PT Student’s Journey from Chronic Pain to Recovery

“I have been pushing myself to do well in the PTA program and to advocate for physical therapy because I would not have gotten to where I am without it." – Elizabeth Roache

Elizabeth Roache, an avid runner, weightlifter and performer, was studying in the Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Rasmussen University when her life drastically changed in an instant. While driving to visit a family member and stopped at a red light, her vehicle was struck by another. Both vehicles were totaled.

Elizabeth was taken to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a concussion and experienced pain all the way from the cervical region of her spine to the lumbar region—which is another way of saying nearly all of her back was in excruciating pain.

PT Assistant Student Elizabeth Roache
PT Assistant Student Elizabeth Roache

She was given pain relievers and sent home from the hospital.

Elizabeth’s back pain grew worse. She was referred to a medical team consisting of internal medicine physicians, neurologists, physical therapists, and other specialists. Several tests yielded a diagnosis that resulted in mandatory bedrest for a few weeks. "Overall, I was not in good shape and experienced bouts of paralysis," says Elizabeth, recalling that time.

Fortunately, with the help of her medical team, Elizabeth began her road to recovery. The physical therapist student became the physical therapy patient.

The PT who treated her focused first on reducing the inflammation. Once the extensive swelling began to decrease, they worked on active range of motion exercises. Before the accident, Elizabeth was a very active individual—a performer at Walt Disney World, runner and weightlifter. The aftermath of her car accident was both mentally and physically draining.

"When I watched the PT, I thought the moves were so simple, and that I could do them, no problem,” she says. “But those simple movements were beyond difficult, and they exhausted me. One thing that is not discussed enough in the field of medicine is the biopsychosocial aspects of health,” says Elizabeth, referring to the way that biology, psychology, and socio-environmental factors all play a role in injury or disease, recovery and overall health.

"I was too afraid and embarrassed to admit to my PT and doctors that I was struggling mentally,” Elizabeth continued. “I experienced frequent nightmares, depression, anxiety, and random moments of crying. Fortunately, I had a family member to advocate for me. The PT then began to tell me how important it is to stay hopeful in recovery. A month or so later in my PTA program, we went over the same concept: that the surroundings, support, and mentality that the patient has could impact their recovery."

Several months have passed since the car accident, and Elizabeth's range of motion has improved drastically. Her cervical rotation is not at the normal range quite yet, but it is much better and improving.

Shortly after the accident, Elizabeth thought she would have to drop out of the PTA program due to the amount of pain and mobility limitations she was experiencing. However, the staff at Rasmussen University also provided the support necessary for her to persevere and be successful—ultimately enabling her to have a unique perspective as a future physical therapy provider and PT patient.

"I am excited to share my recovery story with others, and I will utilize my experience to empathize with my future patients,” says Elizabeth. “I have been pushing myself to do well in the PTA program and to advocate for physical therapy because I would not have gotten to where I am without it.”

Editor’s Note: We thank Elizabeth for having the courage to share her story, especially by sharing her experience with the important, yet too often ignored, connection between pain and both physical and mental recovery. We wish her all the best in what is certain to be a wonderful career in physical therapy.


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