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Lena Walther on podcasts, zoom HIIT class, and the upside of telerehab

We sat down for virtual coffee with one of our newest physiotherapists, Lena Walther. She told us about pelvic floor health, imposter syndrome, and dreaming about post-pandemic travels.

First off, I like to check in about pronouns and name pronunciation. Lay-na Wall-ther?

Yeah, Lay-na, and ‘Walt-er’! There is a “H” but you say it just like Walter. I use she/her. 

Are you into podcasts? What are some of your favourites?

I love podcasts!  For physio-related, I like Physio Matters. NAF Physio is a bit controversial but always makes me think critically about things. Physio Edge is a good one too. As far as non-physio, mostly your typical true crime… I love My Favourite Murder, it’s so good.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Victoria?

Ooooh, I love all the Italian ones… but my favourite would have to be the Surly Mermaid in Sidney. It’s close to my heart– it was an important first date spot for me! It’s a little place right on the water, good food, great service. 

But of course, you can’t go wrong with takeout from Pagliacci’s or Il Terrazzo!

First vacation you want to take, post-COVID?

Oh, that’s a hard one… There’s so many. Right now I just want to lay on a beach in Mexico somewhere, or maybe Hawaii. I’d love to go to Ireland and Scotland, Croatia… everywhere! 

I’ve heard you do some art– can you tell me more about that?

It’s just drawing bodies, just nerdy stuff. I like drawing human forms, anatomy, usually with pencil. I’ve always enjoyed art, I took lessons when I was younger. My mom wanted me to go to art school but I thought, I’d like to have a job with a steady income.

Wow, that sounds like the opposite of most conversations with parents about art school!

Yeah I know! [laughs] But I mostly just look things up on sites like Pinterest and copy what I see, so I’m not as into the creative aspect. When people just draw things from their brain I’m like, that’s amazing! But I want to keep it just as a hobby that I do when I have time… which isn’t so often these days.

2 anatomical drawings by Lena
Two of Lena’s anatomy-inspired drawings.

Lots of folks at Arbutus are pretty sporty, do you take part in any athletics? 

Yeah, I do a mix of things– I love spin class, strength training, HIIT classes. Of course with Covid, things are different, but I still do a few HIIT classes a week with some friends over zoom! And I decided I’m doing a half-marathon in March, so I ran 13 km yesterday.

Overall I try to keep my body guessing. I’ve learned that’s how my body best responds to training; to mix it up, keep challenging myself with progressive overload. I want to be functionally fit– run a 10k one day, lift weights the next.

You did some work with the UBC Old Boys rugby team, what was that like for you?

I volunteered there for weekly practices and a couple games. I learned a lot… including that being on the sports field isn’t for me! [laughs] There are a lot of variables you’re not in control of: lots of travel, weather, mud, game rules about how many players can be on or off the field (and for how long).

It was interesting because it’s kind of fast-paced, like emergency care. An injury happens and you need to run out into the field, then decide whether it can be treated and the player sent back on, or if they need to receive alternate care. But I discovered that I really prefer having the time to get to know clients better, to treat people over time.

What do you like about working in the clinic as opposed to on the sports field?

I’ve always loved working with people, getting to know people. I got my first job in a bakery/cafe in Grade 10, then worked in customer service throughout school. I’ve always loved building connections and putting people at ease.

That’s one of the things I love about Arbutus— our clients are so kind and lovely, even when they’re in a lot of pain! It’s easy to enjoy the work, when you look forward to seeing people. I feel like I get to learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Have you always known you wanted to be a physiotherapist?

You can’t start out in Kinesiology at UVic, but I applied and got in after my first year. When you’re in Kin, you know it’s probably physio, chiro, or med. I kept my options open at first, shadowed some physio and chiros. I’d always been into health and fitness though, and I loved that physio was so much about movement and the whole person. I felt like pursuing that direction would allow me to live the most authentic and fulfilling life I could. 

Lena Walther at the BC Tech Summit.
Lena at the BC Tech Summit.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you’ve had so far, since finishing your Master’s?

I’ve been a student my whole life, and… well, let’s just say I finally understand imposter syndrome! [laughs] I sometimes forget that I’m not a student anymore. It’s been a hard transition at times. But I know I’ve been properly trained, I know what I’m talking about, what I’m doing. Sometimes I feel really good about it, like ‘yes I got this!’ But it’s definitely been hard at times. It’s one of the things I really appreciate about having mentors who are much more experienced, as well as friends who graduated a few years before me, to be able to talk to.

Have you had many virtual appointments due to Covid? What’s that been like for you?

Not a ton at Arbutus actually — we’re very hands on here and have been able to stay open safely since May, which is great — but in some of my practicums I did more telehealth. I feel like education and exercise are some of my strengths as a physio. Manual therapy is super important, and can create more immediate change, especially for a recent injury or when there’s acute pain. I really believe in the power of touch. But it’s also really important to be able to treat someone without that, and telehealth helps keep the focus there.

I love being able to improve movement confidence for people, in a way that fits in their life and they can be excited about. Like, you have two kids and a full time job? Okay, I recognize you have maybe ten minutes a day; let’s work with that and figure out how to best use that time.

When I hear a client say they’re feeling stronger, they want a harder exercise, I just — [throws hands up] it’s the best feeling. And that’s totally possible through telehealth.

Lena Walther jogging along Dallas Road.
Lena jogging at Dallas Beach.

So besides the people-side, what’s your favourite part of physio? Is there a specialty on the horizon for you?

Hmm… I’ve been really interested in pelvic floor health. I’ve always enjoyed women’s health, though of course pelvic health is for everyone. 

I didn’t know that could be treated with Physio!

Yeah! There’s a big waitlist in Victoria to see a pelvic floor physio specialist. There’s a massive need for it. It can be good for so many people; postpartum, after prostate cancer, painful periods, incontinence, pelvic & lower back pain… the list goes on. These are sensitive issues and there’s some stigma, so people often don’t know what help is available.

Right now I only do external work, mainly through education and exercise. Finding a mentor and becoming certified for internal pelvic floor work can be challenging, both with Covid and because of how sensitive an area it is. But I’m hopeful. I’d really like to further my education in this area once I have completed a few more years of general practice.

What do you find are some of the biggest misconceptions about your field?

A lot of people think we only do hands-on work, or we only work with athletes. But we have so much knowledge about the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, the nervous system… We don’t just treat sprained ankles, we can help with things like preventing falls, post-stroke rehab, arthritis… 

A lot of people think physio is just for competitive athletes and people who exercise a lot, but physio is for everybody. Even when I started in school I was like, there are hand specialists?! Vet physios?! There’s really something for everyone.