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A New Look at Physical Therapy with Dr. Stephanie Leaf

So many people think there’s no need for physical therapy unless they’re badly injured, but Dr. Stephanie Leaf believes physical therapy can be beneficial for anyone. In fact, Stephanie founded her own practice, New Leaf Physical Therapy, by blending aspects of her background in physical therapy, Pilates, and Ergonomics. At New Leaf, patients are evaluated based on their specific needs, and then work with a movement specialist while attending fitness classes tailored to their exact situation. Stephanie opened her practice for anyone looking for increased mobility, flexibility, healing, or strength, and we got the chance to ask her all about it. Here’s what she told us:

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We’d love to hear a bit about your background. When did you decide you wanted to do PT? How did you start New Leaf Physical Therapy?

I grew up in New York and I was into ice skating, dancing, cheerleading, and loving all things science and anatomy.  My amazing parents saw my interests and together with great teachers guided me towards physical therapy when I was looking at colleges.  Physical Therapy clicked for me. I began working as a licensed physical therapist in NYC in 2002 at top hospitals, rehab facilities, and in house at financial firms, and I felt inspired by this career choice to help people and connect to them. I was and continue to be passionate about understanding the mind body connection and how everything has to work together to alleviate pain.

I was working for clinics where I was seeing 2-3 patients per hour, and that model didn’t work for me, or for my patients. I believed every patient deserved an hour session with their therapist, so I left. Before I could plan my next steps, patients started calling and emailing me to find me.  They didn’t want factory care, and I didn’t either. So, New Leaf Physical Therapy evolved organically. In my tiny apartment New Leaf Physical Therapy began with a treatment table, some therabands, and my hands as the only equipment.   Within a month, we moved out of my apartment to a small medical office. Fast forward to today, and New Leaf Physical Therapy’s system is all in one studio space, where you can be covered at any stage of rehab and performance.  We bridge the gap between physical therapy and fitness, and take you beyond what you thought was possible.

 

We love that New Leaf’s business model makes the sessions different than most Physical Therapy sessions. Can you explain the idea behind your tailored fitness lessons that target specific conditions?

Our physical therapy looks at your entire body as a whole and not as one specific area of pain or injury.  That is also how we want every client to start to see themselves.  We believe that you cannot just fix the problem but you need to educate the client on the how and why of occurrence and performance.  Learning how the body moves and being able to feel where you are working from can make a huge impact.

As part of our physical therapy phase clients work individually with movement specialists who take your smaller PT exercises and create hour sessions of full body workouts that cater to your specific needs and deficits discovered during the PT evaluation. As people phase out of rehab they can continue privately with the movement specialists, and when appropriate they can transition to our classes. New Leaf PT’s integrated structure sets patients up for success making it the ultimate destination for recovery, strengthening, and optimal wellbeing.

 

You have a pretty diverse background with your certifications in Physical Therapy, Pilates, and Ergonomics. How do these three come together at New Leaf PT?

New Leaf Physical Therapy is all about seeing everybody as a whole and not an individual body part.  We look for the source of dysfunctions and do not simply put a band aid over the area of pain.  During your initial evaluation with the PT we use all of our senses to get your big picture.  Listening to what you tell us,  and asking the right questions, gives us so much information before we ever observe you or put our hands on your body to test or to correct.  Pilates and Ergonomics are big picture modalities.  It is our job to help you see what activities or postures you do habitually that may be hindering your recovery, or acting as the source. Good physical therapy actually starts when you walk out of the clinic.  We can support you with all the information and knowledge, but your body needs practice to break old bad habits and create new better habits.  Pilates and Ergonomics together start you on the right path for good, healthy, habitual patterns.

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Can you explain how Pilates and Physical Therapy work together in the recovery process?

The philosophies of holistic physical therapy and Pilates are similar and therefore integrate very well with one another.  Pilates promotes the strengthening of the internal stabilizing muscles to improve movement and support the joints. The whole body is considered with an emphasis on alignment and balancing muscular forces around the joints to promote efficiency and pain-free movement. This is exactly what our bodies need after we have cleared dysfunctional tissues and faulty structure with the manual hands on techniques during physical therapy.  The principles of Pilates are awesome for rehabilitation, but if they aren’t used in conjunction with proper therapy techniques it could aggravate the injury.  Pilates exercises also offer a variety of modifications for different levels and abilities. Pilates-based physical therapy is based on the principle that movement oriented physical therapy can provide patients with an opportunity to have positive experiences and success with movement.

 

What would you tell someone who is considering coming in for an assessment but isn’t necessarily injured? Would they benefit from Physical Therapy as well?

People who do not have a specific injury can enter into our system in two ways.  They can begin with 3 private sessions with our movement specialists who screen you for assymetries, weak areas of function, and faulty movement patterns.  If these issues are purely biomechanical with the proper education we can begin to fix and work on areas of weakness directly in the fitness aspect.  They can also begin with a physical therapy evaluation which is a more in depth look at your physical function looking at motion, strength, balance, coordination, using special tests and measures.

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One thing you guys focus on at New Leaf is the proper alignment, which can be tough for people with full-time office jobs. What advice can you offer someone who sits at a desk all day?

This is where the Pilates and Ergonomics blend.  You can work out all day long and be super strong but if your work station is not optimal it will undo all the good.  A lot of companies now do offer ergonomic evaluations for employees.  This will match your desk set up with the tasks that you need to perform. Proper positions, and good equipment can make a difference, but ultimately you need to get up.  Our bodies were not built to be sitting or standing statically all day long.  I teach clients easy exercises and stretches that they can use throughout the work day.  Learning proper postural alignment is key so that you can come back to it throughout the day.  Pilates-based exercises will give you a good basis to hold neutral alignments while sitting or standing, but you need to remind the body to come back to that about every 30 minutes.

 

What’s one helpful tip you would give to an athlete or regular gym-goer who wants to start taking extra precautions to prevent injuries?

Mix up your routine.  We set up new programs for our athletes so that they incorporate all the right workouts during the week.  We never want to eliminate what someone loves to do, so we add in the necessary classes here to complement what they are doing outside of our studio. Injury often happens because we are moving too much, so learning about what you actually need to stabilize while moving may make a huge difference.

 

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about Physical Therapy?

I wish everyone visited a physical therapist once or twice a year just like you would your primary care doctor.  Most injuries I see are due to cumulative affects on the body that could have been avoided if seen earlier. Physical Therapists are great health coaches and advocates because we do spend a lot time listening and talking with clients, we can guide you to the right specialists and doctors when necessary.

 

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