It’s said you can tell someone is a runner if A) they can correctly pronounce “plantar fasciitis” B) they have a favorite ice pack, and C) they have a physical therapist on speed dial.
For many area runners, the PT of choice is Mike Lauffer, owner of B&B Physical Therapy at 6415 N. Monroe St. With track season in full swing and Bloomsday right around the corner – not to mention the Recycle Run, the Heart Run, the Spokane River Run and the granddaddy of road races, the 118th annual Boston Marathon – Lauffer and his staff are getting a good workout.
Besides keeping high school athletes and club runners race ready, Lauffer is himself a serious competitor, having finished Boston last year and hoping to “run his age” at this year’s Bloomsday. (He’s 48.)
During a recent interview, Lauffer discussed his PT practice and offered advice on how to avoid needing to speed dial his office.
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Lauffer: On a ranch outside Valier, Mont. (pop. 509).
S-R: What were your interests back then?
Lauffer: Medical-field type things – my favorite classes in high school were biology and anatomy/physiology. But I didn’t want to go through all the schooling to become a doctor.
S-R: Where did you attend college?
Lauffer: I went to Montana State University and majored in athletic training for three years. Then an adviser suggested I look into physical therapy, because there were more career opportunities. So I transferred to Eastern Washington University and earned a B.S. in physical therapy. Now most physical therapists get a doctorate, but that wasn’t the way it was set up back in 1988.
S-R: How did your career evolve?
Lauffer: My first job was in Cheney at Spokane Sports Medicine, where I’d done an internship. Four years later, we moved to the Puget Sound area so my wife could study occupational therapy. Then we moved back to Montana for a couple of years before returning to Spokane, where I took a job at B&B Physical Therapy. I bought out one partner in 2006, and the other partner in 2009.
S-R: Did your physical therapy training prepare you to be a business owner?
Lauffer: No, but I learned a lot from the people who sold me the business.
S-R: Any surprises?
Lauffer: When you work for somebody, you don’t have to deal with employee issues. I have a really great crew, but things come up, like everyone wanting to take vacation at the same time. It’s a challenge keeping everyone happy.
S-R: In 2006, when you first committed to buying B&B, the economy was roaring. By 2009, when you completed the transaction, the economy was nose-diving. Did that worry you?
Lauffer: In 2009, the recession still hadn’t had much impact on the business. But gradually we’ve seen a drop in the number of patients. A lot of that is because insurance companies have decreased their coverage – either by denying access to care or reducing their share of the cost. Consequently, patients’ co-payments have risen from $10 or $15 a visit back in 2006 to $25 or $30 or $50 today.
S-R: Having said that, is physical therapy a good business?
Lauffer: I’m still very happy with it.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Lauffer: Interacting with patients, and teaching them how to get better and stay better.
S-R: What do you like least?
Lauffer: All the paperwork.
S-R: Is there a lot of yackety-yak during physical therapy?
Lauffer: Pretty much, yeah. We learn a lot about what’s going on in a patient’s life – sometimes more than we want to know. But many times that’s helpful in figuring out what’s happening with their bodies.
S-R: What are you most proud of about your business?
Lauffer: The reputation we’ve built with runners and other athletes. That’s something we didn’t have when I joined the business in 1997.
S-R: What’s the career outlook for physical therapy?
Lauffer: It’s one of those fields that always show up on top-10 lists. As baby boomers get older, they’re going to need more care.
S-R: How much does a physical therapist earn right out of school?
Lauffer: Probably $30 to $35 an hour.
S-R: What do you look for when hiring?
Lauffer: Someone with good people skills. Also the ability to adapt to change quickly, because a patient might be doing great one day and bad the next time they come in, and we need to figure out why.
S-R: When someone learns you’re a physical therapist and seeks a free curbside consult, what do you tell them?
Lauffer: I usually try to give them a bit of quick advice. Sometimes that’s easy, sometimes not. A lot of times I’ll say, “That sounds like something you should see a physical therapist for.”
S-R: With that disclaimer in mind, how about sharing some advice for runners? What causes them the most problems?
Lauffer: Running in the wrong shoes, and bad training habits – trying to do too much too fast. Another big factor is weakness in the hips or core – runners are notoriously weak there.
S-R: Besides hip and core strength, what should people keep in mind when training for a road race?
Lauffer: Flexibility issues – if they’re really tight in certain muscle groups, they should stretch those groups.
S-R: What’s the latest trend regarding stretching?
Lauffer: Opinions go back and forth. The current thinking is that doing prolonged stretching before a race will decrease your speed. A more dynamic warm-up is better if you want to run fast. Stretching after a run is still important, especially if you have problematic areas. And the best time to stretch is when you’re still warm and sweaty.
S-R: What’s a symptom of overtraining?
Lauffer: When something starts to hurt. A small amount of discomfort is not unusual when running. My rule of thumb is that, on a scale of one to 10, your pain should be less than three. If it’s greater than three and continues for a while or alters your running style, you need to have it checked.
S-R: What’s your advice regarding fluids?
Lauffer: The conventional wisdom is that if the race or workout is under an hour, you probably don’t need to take fluids – unless it’s super hot, in which case you probably should drink a little. Beyond an hour, think about replacing the fluid you’re sweating off, as well as refueling your body with gels to replenish the muscle glycogen you’re burning off.
S-R: How about recovery drinks?
Lauffer: Research has shown that chocolate milk’s protein and carbohydrate mix is the same as the more expensive stuff you can buy.
S-R: Any advice concerning shoes?
Lauffer: I encourage new runners to be properly fitted at one of our local stores that specialize in running. And don’t be overly concerned about how they look. I recommended a particular shoe to a patient a couple of weeks ago, and she asked if they came in a cute color. I said, “Nope, they make them in the colors they make them, so you’ll have to learn to like it.” Buy the shoe that’s right for you.
S-R: How do you relax?
Lauffer: I run.
S-R: How far?
Lauffer: About 40 miles a week.
S-R: That’s a lot of chocolate milk.