A common topic of conversation among physical therapists on social media is if we as a profession have a strong enough knowledge in strength and conditioning. A common thought is that many physical therapist do not load their patients enough to create a stimulus to improve strength optimally. For some reason I do not think this is an issue with Dr. Sophia Veiras(@soph.squats). Dr. Veiras is a Physical Therapist at Prolete Physical Therapy and Sport Medicine. In her free time she competes in powerlifting where she boast some impressive lifts. 200kg (440lbs) squat, 127.5 kg(280lbs) Bench and 197.5kg (435lbs) Deadlift. Dr. Veiras has been able to use her experience as a powerlifter to enhance her clinical practice. I was lucky enough to sit down with Dr. Veiras and get insight into the beneficial relationship her powerlifting and physical therapy career have had with each other.
I played a lot of sports growing up but my interest in rehabilitation science was first ignited through my participation in the sport of wrestling. As the lone female on the high school wrestling team, it was an interesting and life changing experience. Determined to prove myself as a successful woman in a traditionally male dominated sport, I recognized the importance of incorporating accessory work to supplement my hard work on the mats. Days spent away from wrestling were spent strength training, conditioning, experimenting with nutrition and nursing my own injuries via Google. My interest in sports performance and injuries coupled with my desire to help people led me down the physical therapy route. What I discovered in PT school is that PT is so much more than just sports rehab and I’ve come to love all the ways in which physical therapists can positively impact people’s lives.
My overarching treatment ideology is progressive rehabilitation and strength training. My biggest interest lies in bridging the gap between physical therapy and return to performance. I love to get athlete’s back to their respective grind with special interest in the female athlete. I am also quite holistic in my treatment strategies and make sure to address all variables of pain and performance including sleep, nutrition, psychological and social factors. I am here to be your ally and I believe in empowering you to be successful in all aspects of life.
I try to maintain balance by engaging my creative side through journaling. I used to be big into bullet journaling and have since transferred over to a passion planner. This allows me to stay on top of my tasks for the day while also giving me space to practice my calligraphy and doodling skills. I aim to maintain an AM/PM routine, which each consist of about 15-20 minutes of goal setting, organizing, and daily reflection.
While at Northeastern, I had an amazing cooperative education experience working in the outpatient neurological rehabilitation department at Boston Medical Center. The most impactful patients I worked with were the spinal cord injury patients. In particular we were known for our body weight supported treadmill training system to help develop walking skills after spinal cord injuries or other neurological injuries. This population was so strong and inspiring mentally pushing themselves through the intense demands of neurorehab while maintaining such positive attitudes. I fondly remember one in particular, a mid 30 year old former Spartan racer bound to a wheelchair after a diving incident at his sister’s wedding. His determination and commitment to his rehab was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He simultaneously attended therapy at several neurorehab facilities spending time in standing frames, locomotor training treadmills, and training all the muscles he could. The prognosis for spinal cord injuries varies, with the greatest capacity for nerve recovery within the first 6 months. While initial injuries were sustained at the cervical spine, with his commitment to rehab this patient had regained levels into his lumbar spine as of the end of my experience there. This is incredible in the neurorehab world and it was so inspiring to experience.
How much do you bench? Squat? Deadlift?
Raw: 160kg squat/90kg bench/182.5kg deadlift
Equipped: 200kg squat/127.5kg bench/197.5kg deadlift
How did you get into powerlifting?
I was first exposed to strength training through being on the wrestling team. I would enjoy my time in the weight room but my primary focus at that time was still wrestling. After I had accomplished my wrestling goals of winning a national championship, I shifted my focus to school but continued to casually work out in the gym. I realized how much I missed playing a sport and my best friend convinced me to join her on the Northeastern Powerlifting team. I ran a 4 week program, did a meet, and I was hooked.
What powerlifting competitions have you competed in?
I have been blessed to earn opportunities to compete regionally, nationally, and internationally. My most notable accomplishment to date was winning IPF Collegiate Worlds in Belarus in 2016. I am currently working my way up in weight and on the podium with the goal of securing a spot on the world team again one day.
How has being a physical therapist improved or hindered your powerlifting?
My physical therapy knowledge has been a huge asset to my own powerlifting training as well as my ability to coach others in powerlifting. My knowledge of biomechanics, anatomy, motor control, and skill development are integral to my ability to process technical strengths and weaknesses. My knowledge of neuroscience and psychology is essential to my own mental patterning of lifts and performance. My ability to regress and progress movements within training has helped me modify training appropriately as needed.
Have you treated a lot of powerlifters? How do they differ from other athletes?
While on the Northeastern powerlifting team, I naturally found myself staying beyond practice hours to evaluate, assess, and treat my teammates’ injuries. Now in my professional years, I continue to work with powerlifters and provide education for injury management in the sport of powerlifting. In general, you tend to see more nagging aches and pains than you do traumatic injuries within the sport. Most common injury locations include low back, shoulders, and hips. There are so many training variables at play, both extrinsic and intrinsic, that it is important to recognize that injuries are multi-factorial and you have to recognize and address all the factors at play. This may include load management, technique adjustments, recovery monitoring, nutritional aspects, and stress management. Have that discussion with your athlete and it will go far in your management of the competitive powerlifter.
Dr. Sophia Veiras Views on Physical Therapy:
What is your favorite thing about being a PT?
The quality time I get to spend with my patients and the relationships we cultivate throughout the rehab process. As PTs we spend anywhere from 1-3 hours with patients weekly for several weeks, months, even years dealing with different injuries, which generates meaningful teamwork.
What is your least favorite thing about being a PT?
What do you view as the biggest problem in physical therapy?
Our current insurance based reimbursement model needs an upgrade as do a lot of documentation systems. I would say notes are the bane of most PT’s existence. While documentation is important, there has got to be a way to make this better!
Where do you see physical therapy going in the future?
I love Telehealth! I see hybrid in-office/virtual PT with updated computer software that allows for smooth communication between treatments and emphasizes independence with the self-management of conditions.
How has your clinical practice changed during covid?
I’ve been integrating a lot more Telehealth, which I have come to love. I’ve also been taking this time to do more education particularly focusing on women’s health taking various MedBridge courses.
How have you incorporated strength and conditioning ideologies into your physical therapy practice?
I am lucky to work in an awesome PT clinic that comes equipped with barbells, a squat rack, chains, weight sleds and all. You already know that I put all of that equipment to good use! There is so much research to support the benefits of strength training that I try to get weights into every single person’s hands, geriatrics included.
More recently, I have been using my background in strength and conditioning to help me navigate Telehealth. I’ve put my Telehealth patients on Excel based rehab programs similar to powerlifting programs. They have several workouts per week to complete and fill out the worksheet as they go and when they are done they return it back to me via e-mail, which allows us to stay in touch in between treatments. We meet virtually either weekly or every other week to go over progressions, any new exercises, and any questions they may have. My patients have been doing awesome with it and enjoying the process!
Dr. Sophia Veiras Advice for Current Students:
What advice do you have for current physical therapy students?
Expose yourself to all fields of physical therapy! Challenge yourself to take on work experiences that are outside your current thoughts of your clinical practice, you never know what may spark your interest.
What advice do you have for a new grad when they are looking for their first job?
Look for an environment that supports the mentorship of new grads and has continuing education opportunities. While PT school education is a starting point, there is still so much more to learn. Go to a place that supports your learning so that you can develop into the therapist you want to be.
What things can current Physical therapy students do while in school, to seperate themselves from their peers?
I would say that what helped me most in PT school was the opposite. While I stood out from my classmates for my participation in wrestling and powerlifting, we were stronger collaboratively. My PT class was tight knit and we continue to support each other posting on our Facebook group from school where we used to share study guides and ideas and now share job postings and ask for advice on cases. Create meaningful relationships with your peers and stand out by creating an impact in your own way.
Dr. Sophia Veiras Fun Facts and Tips:
How would you recommend people to stay active if gyms close down again during these winter months?
Get yourself some weights, size and shape depending on person, goal, and fitness company supplies. Create a workout plan with the equipment you have or hire an online coach to make one with you and hold you accountable. Make it happen and be kind with yourself if it doesn’t. It’s tough times and I’m sure there are going to be a lot more ups and downs.