For a basically healthy person, I’m on a first-name basis with a lot of physical therapists. The following is a short list of things that have landed me in physical therapy (PT) over the just the last few years:

  • Walking
  • Standing (while holding my kid)
  • The month of December

Naturally, there are more details. On the first bullet, I rolled my ankle on nothing in particular and sprained it. Regarding that second bullet, the kid in question did a funny little jumping-jack movement while I was carrying him, causing me to pull muscle in my back—one that I didn’t previously know I had but that is, it turns out, engaged by fairly common activities, like breathing. Finally, December is almost always an overly busy month, and stress travels directly from my brain to my shoulder and neck muscles. In a very December move, my shoulders and neck muscles help by going into spasm.

Those are the occurrences that have prompted me to go to PT. But each time I got there, the physical therapist backed right up to a cause before the cause. Rolling my ankle that particular day was random, but a lack of flexibility in my ankles predisposed me toward a sprain sometime. My kid’s jumping jack? Truly inexplicable. But I was prone to a pull because of an imbalance in the strength of some of my back muscles. And I may tense my shoulders when I’m stressed, but the asymmetrical position of my right shoulder (forward, in a mouse-operating pose) made the muscles on one side likelier to respond by turning into Gordian knots.

There was a time when I felt silly calling the physical therapist’s office over my most recent tweak or twist, knowing the issue would likely resolve on its own over time if I managed it. But the wisdom I’ve gleaned from my visits to that office filled with elastic straps and giant bouncy balls is this: best-case scenario, if I ignore it, it heals, but the underlying problem goes unaddressed, leaving an invisible clock counting down to the next hitch somewhere in my giddyup. In the worst case, it heals badly, the underlying problem deepens, and I’m already halfway to my next injury (this is particularly true of injuries like a sprained ankle).

In New York, people with insurance can go directly to a physical therapist without needing a referral. These days, if a problem sticks around overnight, I call Sarah, Nina, or Pete straightaway. Over my stints working with them, I’ve gathered a set of maintenance moves, exercises I need to do regularly just to keep my baseline in a place that doesn’t leave me calling to see if they’ve had any same-day cancellations. Knowing I’m doing what I can to stay healthy, at least when it comes to preventable musculoskeletal issues, I walk, stand, and live through December with abandon.