After eight years of strenuous training to become a ballet dancer and a further four years in the ballet ensemble at the Berlin State Opera, Charis Riad changed just about everything in her former life.
Her joints and muscles were marked from the one-sided strain. Charis was plagued by a symptom of excessive strain in her knee; she was in pain every day at that time. She wanted to know what had caused the problems in her knee joint, her muscles, her whole body – but above all, the former ballet dancer wanted to find out what she needed to change to get better.
Despite the constant pain, Charis was certain: Her new life must keep her moving.
A sedentary job, without movement, would have been unimaginable for me.
Charis wondered how she could use her knowledge of movement and the musculoskeletal system for her new life. When she decided to train as a physical therapist, she did not yet know that she would come across all areas of medicine in the process.
“It opened up a world to me that was much bigger than I thought.” Because Charis’s PT training went beyond the classics.
A holistic approach
“During the first three years of my training to be a physical therapist, I was actually only given the basics,” Charis explains. “The individual journey that you go on later as a physical therapist does not start until you gain professional experience.”
Early on, it seemed that a holistic approach proved to be the right one for her. The four years of additional training at the Berliner Schule für Zen Shiatsu [Berlin School for Zen Shiatsu] and her training as a yoga instructor shaped her treatment methods and way of life.
“Shiatsu is a purely passive treatment method and yoga is an active one. For me, it is important to give my patients care – that is shiatsu – but beyond that I also teach them how to help themselves. This involves targeted exercises, which are adapted to each patient.”
It goes beyond the body
Precisely because Charis places so much value on a holistic approach, she enjoys devoting herself fully to her patients, perhaps also because she knows from her own experience what it means to have to live with chronic pain over a long period of time.
“Often, treatment goes beyond physical health,” she explains. “I believe that nutritional advice and psychological support are also part of the healing process. Because physical damage often has something to do with mental attitude. To combine the two, gather this strength, and allow it to flow to where it is needed – this is what has been taught in yoga and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.”
A therapist is a companion.
Many people forget, in the stresses of everyday life, to be mindful of themselves and their body. “It is often a lot of small inappropriate mechanical stresses and incorrect postures in everyday life that make us ill,” says Charis. Anyone who wants to live more healthily needs more time for themselves and for movement.
“It’s enough to cycle or go for a walk instead of drive.”
The complex knee
Charis knows from her own experience that pain in the knee can lead to uncertainty. If it hurts to move a joint many people stop moving instead of getting to the bottom of the cause of the pain.
“It is often shortened structures that put increased pressure on the joint. This increased pressure becomes even greater if I simply carry on with my incorrect everyday movements and do not treat the pain as a warning sign.”
Charis sees removing the pressure from the joint, relieving and stretching the structures, and reassuring the patient that they are doing the right thing as her main task as a physical therapist in such a case.
“The goal should always be to be able to carry out natural movements again without any pain. Because the knee, for instance, was not given to us so that we could sit on a chair or stand around – at least that is not the joint’s main function. Its main function is actually the knee bend. So, squatting – if possible, is reaching the full functional ability of the knee again. Stability is very important for this.”
The task of the therapist is working with the patient to reassure them and provide support. As a physical therapist, Charis knows that it is often difficult for patients to find their way back to movement in spite of knee pain. In addition to mental strength provided by the therapist, a knee support can also help to provide a feeling of stability. “It provides support and the compressive effect of the support helps enormously in preventing an effusion in the knee. When I move with the support the lymph flow is activated. That helps to reduce effusion,” explains Charis. Using medical aids in such a way that the patient regains confidence in themselves and their body is also part of a holistic approach.