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Physical therapist draws on personal experience

Original Article: Christina Whiting, Arctic Sounder (Anchorage, AK), July 20, 2018

View the original article HERE.

Minda Morris in Grewingk glacier
Minda Morris in Grewingk glacier

With a master's degree in engineering, a doctorate of physical therapy and a love of skiing, hiking, climbing and mountaineering, Minda Morris likes to work hard and play hard, enjoying time outdoors and helping others.

Graduating the Colorado School of Mines in 2009, Morris spent three years working at an engineering consulting firm. In her free time, she pursued her athletics and over time, suffered an array of injuries from her sporting activities. To help heal, she pursued yoga and physical therapy.

"I had zero core strength and it seemed like I was always injured," she said. "Once I found physical therapy, it was like I had someone on my side helping me through things that at times seemed hopeless. I had knee injuries, ankle injuries, hip injuries, and low back pain, which were alleviated by yoga and physical therapy."

Having gone to both yoga and physical therapy to address her injuries, Morris began to consider ways she could help herself and others address and prevent injuries. She took yoga classes and trained to be a yoga teacher. When her students commented about their bodies hurting while doing certain poses, she wanted to be able to answer their questions and help them, but did not feel like she or the other teachers had enough information to give them answers.

After going to a career counselor, she decided to return to school, studying physical therapy at the University of Colorado Denver. In 2016, she graduated with her doctorate of physical therapy.

For the next year, she worked as a traveling physical therapist in Oregon and then Seattle. The following fall, she moved to Homer after a friend who was working as a physical therapist at South Peninsula Hospital told her the hospital was hiring. She applied and was hired to work a short-term contract.

Morris drove from Seattle to Colorado, and flew to Homer with her mom and her dog, Truffle. She was immediately struck by the beauty, which she first witnessed in 2012 when she traveled to Alaska with her family, backpacking in Denali National Park and on a cruise ship that visited Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.

"I loved it and thought that Alaska was very beautiful," she said. "Now that I live here, I think you don't really get the feel for the people and communities of Alaska until you live here."

What was supposed to be a temporary, five-month job turned into full-time employment this past May.

Morris shared that she finds her work at the hospital's rehabilitation department to be extremely satisfying.

"The rehab department sees everything from ankles, knees, hips, low backs, shoulders, necks, people with balance issues, dizziness issues, concussions, people that are simple deconditioned and those that are in pain and it's nice seeing somebody get better and better over time," she said. "Sometimes PT is not the answer for someone and I can make a recommendation for them to try something else - like massage, chiropractor or going back to his or her primary doctor. PT is not a universal answer, as every body is wildly different and no one solution will work for everyone. But being part of their solution and guiding them in the right direction is incredibly rewarding."

She works hard to stay on top of the ever-changing research in her field, which includes annual continuing education requirements out of state.

"Being an engineer helps sometimes," she said. "I'm always trying to dissect things, look at things from a different angle and utilize the different tools that we have."

While Morris is available to treat a variety of ailments and injuries alongside her fellow PTs, she has also gone through specialized training in the field of Pelvic Health PT and is currently coordinating a local program through South Peninsula Hospital's Rehabilitation Department. Drawn to pelvic health as a specialty because of the simple ways she can assist individuals with complex problems, she began studying pelvic health in the middle of PT school when she saw how versatile it could be.

"One session could involve helping a couple reduce pain with sex, while the next could be working with a postnatal woman with incontinence," she said. "I'm excited to bring this practice to Homer because I think there is a need."

Her patients include those with urinary leakage and retention, pain with urination, frequency and urges, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, fecal incontinence, post-partum issues, chronic pelvic pain, tailbone pain, sacroiliac pain, testicular or scrotal pain, nerve pain, pain with intercourse, abdominal separation, organ prolapse and post-surgical rehabilitation.

"I am basically like the OB-GYN of physical therapy; or the PT that you talk to about the weird things that you don't want to talk to anyone else about, except that what you might think is weird is something I hear all the time," she said. "People with these disorders are often tossed from health care practitioner to health care practitioner, have multiple surgeries or are told that nothing can be done. PT can provide a simple answer that doesn't mean a lifelong venture of surgery to a problem that has felt very personal and private. It's an intimate area -women don't talk about having pain with sex after surgery or giving birth, and for men it can be a hit to the ego if they have penile pain. Pelvic health is highly associated with emotions - people dealing with sexual trauma and you have to be sensitive. I can provide a listening ear and hopefully, a solution."

As part of her pelvic health work, Morris is collaborating with local physicians.

"Pelvic health often requires more discussion with providers to see if medication needs to be tweaked or if other options may provide a better solution," she said.

Her short-term professional goals include having 50 percent of her caseload targeted at patients with pelvic problems. Her long-term professional goals include opening her own specialized pelvic health PT clinic in Homer. In order to accomplish these, she is planning to take more classes on different techniques. Once she reaches 2,000 hours of pelvic health experience, and after an examination process, she may receive her Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification.

"Physical therapy has been one way that I have tried to make my corner of the world a little bit better," she said. "Being a healer comes naturally to me and I am more than thrilled to contribute to this community."

Settling into Homer, Morris is eager to continue to help her patients and, in addition to her PT work, she recently began teaching beginner and Vinyasa flow yoga classes at Forget Me Not Alternative Healing on Main Street. She is also eager to put down roots in the community and is looking to buy land or a new home. And, she is eager to pursue more outdoor activities on a more regular basis, including hiking the local mountains and continuing to develop her cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing and rock climbing skills.

In addition to working, hiking and skiing, Morris likes to cook, read, garden, do art and spend time with her constant companion, Truffle.