When Tim Hartman, an American tourist, crashed his motorbike in Kep he was left with two broken ribs, whiplash, a concussion and a hyperextended shoulder. After the shock wore off, he saw few viable options for recovering in Cambodia and thought of returning to the US to heal.
“That is when an Australian nurse in Sihanoukville referred me to Physiotherapy Phnom Penh,” said Hartman. “Before coming here I couldn’t turn my head to the side, or use my shoulder. Luckily, for my head, I was wearing a helmet,” he said.
Still bandaged, Hartman sat in the lobby of Physiotherapy Phnom Penh II—the clinics new office which officially opens today—on Monivong Boulevard, a block north of The Royal Raffles Hotel.
“If it wasn’t for Dr Dick, I wouldn’t be making progress and wouldn’t be able to continue on my journey,” he said, describing how after a few treatments that mobilized his spine, his neck is healed and a full range of motion has returned to his shoulder.
Dr Dick van der Poel, the lead practitioner out of a group of four Dutch-certified staff and one part-time British, first opened Physiotherapy Phnom Penh near the Russian Market in 2010. Since then, his practice has grown first through word-of-mouth, and now by referrals from some of the capital’s largest hospitals and established clinics.
“We help people get back on their feet again,” said Dick. He went on to describe how in a country that lacks western style facilities, he bridges the gap between the emergency room and full rehabilitation by focusing on the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is what actually binds the body together and includes everything from bones to muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and joints. It is what makes the body move and function, and it is also what is most prone to injury.
Although, unsurprisingly, a number of his patients have been involved in motorbike accidents, he also specializes in sports medicine, surgical rehab and chronic pain caused by previous injuries or inadequate office conditions, he explained. He is also trained in Chinese medical practices like acupuncture, thus creating a synergy between eastern and western practices.
“When a patient comes in we ask them why they have an ailment. Then we do a full mobility test to provide an overall assessment to find the underlying cause of the pain,” he said, noting that a lot of his patients have been previously misdiagnosed.
From there, he develops individualized treatments to get his patients back to work or out on the soccer pitch.
“We also teach about the value of stretching, and the difference between bone and muscle injuries and how the body functions so that patients can integrate this knowledge into everyday life,” he said.
Although his patients are predominantly foreigners at an estimated 80 per cent, he hopes that Cambodians will become aware of the need to maintain proper physical health through prevention and education, rather then just treating the injury through medication that ignores the root cause of the pain, he explained.
The newest addition to their team, the energetic Mark Chen who is certified in physical fitness training and sports medicine, is heading up a new program to diversify their services away from just rehabilitation with the “Back in Action” programme. The 10 week training programme uses education and medical training to strengthen the lower back.
“[The programme] restores muscle balance and encourages postural changes, which can take awhile to be corrected,” said Chen.
Chen also offers one-on-one personal training classes to increase overall fitness, as well as group fitness programmes. The individual classes are offered on a per session basis, while the group programme includes 10 sessions. The individual classes allow for fitness training one hour a week, or two hours twice a week.
“These types of classes have been very successful in Holland,” he said, “and now we have the correct facilities to educate people on how to exercise properly and avoid injuries.”