The Laughing PT
A comedian walks into a PT clinic. It’s me. I’m the comedian.
Although exercise is one of my favorite tools I use to help people reduce pain, I have a close-second… laughter!
Here’s a quick science lesson: When a person has an injury, they know where that injury is because, well, it hurts. Injuries that disrupt the structural integrity of our bodies cause the release of a chemical known as Substance P. This chemical binds to specialized pain receptors that send signals to the brain to let us know something is wrong in that area. We inspect the painful region and see if it hurts to move it. If it does, we protect it by holding it still out of fear of injuring it again which can make the area stiff, and inhibit a person’s ability to complete their day to day tasks.
In physical therapy, we work to reduce those fears, and encourage movement. When you move around and exercise, your body releases endorphins, which not only bind to opioid receptors, but also inhibit the release of Substance P to reduce your pain. You know what else releases endorphins? That’s right, laughter! Laughter has also been shown to increase lung capacity, strengthen abdominal muscles, and even stimulate the immune system (look out, COVID). Humor can also create reductions in cortisol and epinephrine, both of which heighten the nervous system and have been associated with increased pain levels. There are a number of medical studies that also recommend laughter as therapy for the management of pain, anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Laughter releases pain-inhibiting endorphins, reduces anxiety, and stimulates both the nervous system and immune system
As a stand-up comedian, my performances give me an opportunity to perfect not only my jokes, but the actual skill of being funny. I like to think of it like a muscle. Just like any other muscle in the human body, it requires practice and repetition to develop and maintain. Due to the pandemic, opportunities to perform have slowed to a screeching halt. But as a physical therapist, I take every chance I get to flex that muscle. I am regularly found in the clinic making either patients or colleagues laugh, albeit on a different sort of stage.
The other day, one of my colleagues who is nearing the end of her pregnancy was leaning against a cart that held her laptop. It had been a long day, and you could see she was trying to hide her exhaustion. I went up to her (at a safe distance) and said: “Hey….. can I use that cart?” We both burst out laughing, and I could see her energy level pick right back up.
The great thing about being a comedian AND a physical therapist is that I can elicit the same endorphin response two-fold with movement. Pairing movement with laughter only enhances my treatment, and helps my patients recover faster, allowing them to get back to doing what they love. If you’re in pain, come find me in the clinic. I’ll be the one with a microphone.
Kyle Gadapee, PT
Kyle Gadapee, PT provides both Physical Therapy and Sports Performance services out of the Cioffredi Sports Performance Center in Lebanon and has a strong affinity for working with runners and athletes.