Liz Wheeler, PT, DPT, PRC

Liz, after working with a couple different large organizations you branched off and opened up your own business.  Currently, you are owner and president of Launch Sport Performance.  Tell us a little bit about your business and also how your previous experience led you to become a private business owner.
Let me put it bluntly, being the only PRI therapist in a large organization doesn’t make you the favorite…it makes you the “odd” one.  I think it is common for PRI trained therapists to get some resistance from their peers and colleagues.  We do back exercises with balloons.  We dirty up walls by putting our feet on them.  We assume that people are walking around out of their hip socket(s).  They don’t understand it.  Our work environment can be stimulating or limiting; it shapes us. 

I felt an inner pull toward private practice so I could serve patients to the best of my ability….giving them as much time as they needed, not the amount of time reimbursed by an insurance company.  I wanted to be free to practice rehabilitation the way my mind and heart thinks it should be done.  I wanted to create a healthy environment where learning could happen, where new ideas can be pursued and expressed, and where I would be encouraged to go against the norm rather than to “go with the flow.” 

That being said, I went into private practice.  And it has been the best career move I’ve made this far! 

Launch Sport Performance was started in April 2010.  It started with one rented office space in a local gym. I got word-of-mouth referrals and walk-in “gym rats.”  Now it’s expanded into a Postural Restoration Certified Center and a three person business that operates out of an elite sports performance center in Bethesda, MD.  We have two physical therapists and one executive assistant.

Kristen Spencer PRC, MPT was added to the business when she moved to Maryland from Georgia.  She has been an excellent addition with her passion for sports and performance.  Kristen treats patients at the clinic, while managing mom and wife and military duty.  She has recently gotten involved in our local figure skating community and has become known as a local expert in relating PRI concepts to figure skating.  Watch for her work to come out in literature…! 

As for me, there is no such thing as a “typical day in the office.”  I am fortunate to work with professional athletes from many teams and multiple sports.  I travel a lot and consult with athletes, teams, and large organizations.  I have the opportunity to do some independent research here and there for sport-related devices.  I am a clinical instructor for DPT students, and I get to do some classroom teaching here and there.  When I’m not traveling around, I see patients at the clinic or at their homes/offices.

We operate as a cash-based clinic.  We do not accept insurance.  Out of corporate social responsibility and the leanings of our moral values, we adjust our rates so we don’t limit accessibility to certain sectors of our country’s socioeconomic status.  We would prefer that patients go through a full course of rehabilitation, than just affording one or two sessions.  This cash-based system has proven to be hastle-free and really is embraced by the patients.  They seem to take more responsibility and pride in their rehabilitation process if they are paying for it.  And it is a good accountability factor for us…our patients need to find value enough in our services to pay for their treatment.  Acting as autonomous practicitioners, and having direct access, allows physical therapists the freedom to choose this type of business set-up.  I strongly encourage others to try it. 

Aside from running your own business, you have also served as the Team Physical Therapist for the Washington Nationals Baseball Club and also for the Maryland Stingers Women’s Rugby Team.  Tell us how you became involved with these athletic programs.
My relationship with the Washington Nationals began when I received a phone call from the team’s orthopedic surgeon asking for me to send him my resume immediately. Without time for questions, I emailed it to him…..come to find out that he submitted it to the Nationals GM for consideration for the team physical therapist position.  Long story made short, I got the job.  An absolute dream come true!  Later, I found out that the doctor had purposefully been sending me his “difficult” patients for a year…and was pleasantly surprised at the good outcomes, so he thought I deserved a chance to work with the pros.  He would tell his patients “Go see the voodoo doc, I have no clue what she does, but it works.” 

The Maryland Stinger’s Women’s Rugby team affiliation began after I treated the team captain for a “really bad neck.”  She was told by a physician that she needed to retire from rugby…but that just wasn’t an option in her mind.  It’s the same story that many of you face; a patient walks into the office and gives you the history of already seeing multiple physical therapists, doing exercises at home that didn’t really help, and trying all kinds of modalities.  Come to find out, she couldn’t breathe!  So PRI was the perfect thing for her…and it worked!  She found restored faith in the field of PT and asked if I would be willing to be their team PT.  I accepted, gratefully. 

I’ve realized that these opportunities are a healthy balance of what you know and who you know.  I truly believe that the reason I got both of those positions (and many other sport affiliations) is because of Postural Restoration.  No doubt.  It sets me apart from other mainstream PTs.  It’s all about those PRC initials. 

Are you currently involved with any other athletic programs?
I’ve been blessed to be involved with the NFL Combine, Washington Nationals, Washington Freedom, Maryland Stingers, USA Track & Field, USA Bobsledding, Under Armour Senior Bowl, NSSF Track & Field National Championships, US Olympians, Reebok Running School, private ballet companies, Penn Relays, and Nike Football Combine.  These are ongoing commitments along with private, pro athlete contracts.  Life is good!  I love my job 

On top of running your own business, you have managed to stay involved with current continuing education.  Aside from attending courses offered through the Postural Restoration Institute, what other continuing education courses have you found beneficial to the way you run your practice?
I’m a big nerd and I love to learn.  My favorite courses are PRI courses.  Big shocker!  I’ve gone to the PRI courses multiple times and I feel that I learn new things even the 4th time I’ve taken a course. 

But, to be a well-rounded practitioner, and better serve my patients that are pro athletes, I desire to know more about their world.  I need to know techniques that their team athletic trainers are using on them.  I need to know acronyms that team doctors use in their written referrals.  So, I’ve attended Graston courses, Visceral Manipulation, Trigger Point Therapy, Michigan State Manual Medicine, Institute of Physical Art, and Active Release Technique courses. 

In terms of strength and conditioning, I’ve attended Perform Better Functional Training Seminars, National Strength Professionals Association courses, Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Association Annual Meetings, and done the CSCS certification readings (testing soon!). 

Finally, as a doctor of physical therapy, I feel that it is important to keep up with the latest medical information, too.  I really enjoy attending Grand Rounds at local hospitals, going to symposiums, and doing small group discussions on differential diagnoses. 

In 2010, you completed the process of Postural Restoration Certification.  What made you decide to take part in this process?
There were three main things that went into the decision to pursue the PRC initials; (1) acquiring TRUE knowledge, (2) serving patients to the best of my ability, and (3) because I’m competitive. 

I remember sitting in school saying to myself “There has to be more to this [physical therapy] than Theraband and modalities.”  I was bored with straight leg raises, ultrasound, shoulder sleeper internal rotation stretches, and everything to do with traditional outpatient physical therapy.  I had a thirst for something real and true…then along came Ron Hruska.  Since the first day I learned about PRI I was hooked, and knew I wanted to pursue PRC.  I seemed to understand this material on a gut level and it made sense to me in terms of anatomy and physics.  I was so lucky to have been exposed to PRI as a DPT student. 

In life we are given gifts to use to serve other people; thus, I feel a strong professional responsibility to serve patients to the best of my ability.  I never felt comfortable telling a patient “You have scapular dyskinesis and you need to strengthen your scapular muscles.”  There was more to that story…but I didn’t know the rest of the story…until PRI.  I much prefer to tell patients WHY they have the dysfunction and HOW to get a lasting fix for the problem.  To me, that is professional excellence.  Any practitioner can visually identify altered biomechanics; that is a learned skill.  Most practitioners can pull tricks out of a bag and treat the uncovered dysfunctions; that is what we learn in school and continuing education.  But only PRCs can confidently explain why the problem happened and then successfully treat the root cause of the problem. 

And, finally, in the world of sports and performance, it matters to have a lot of initials after your name.  It is a competitive world.  Who can have the latest credential?  Who has the most credentials?  Blah, blah, blah.  Sadly, the significance of those initials doesn’t really matter.  To me, PRC are the best initials to say that I work really hard at finding the root cause of the issue and giving the patient a lasting solution.  PRC is my competitive advantage.

What advice would you offer other’s interested in Postural Restoration Certification?
Be prepared to verbalize your rationale for everything!  There are some right and wrong answers, but there is a strong respect for a good rationale behind either answer.  PRC is about putting the pieces together and connecting the dots; it’s about integration.  It’s not about regurgitating memorized patterns and ligamentous muscles.  Know the information, don’t simply memorize it. 

Last year was a busy year for you professionally, any big plans for 2011?
Of course!  I’ve got plans in the works right now…a bigger business plan, more certifications, getting some research projects published, and teaching some PRI concepts in a university curriculum.  However, the big 2011 dream is to get PRI integrated into the sports world of performance, conditioning, and strength training.


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