South Fork Physical Therapy's doctors of physical therapy include, from left: Lexi Jeffers, Allison Gilbert, Scott Gilbert and Cody Carson. (Ben Garrett/IH)

Physical therapy isn’t necessarily a profession for everybody.

But it is a profession for some, and those are the ones South Fork Physical Therapy wants to reach out to.

Over the years, Drs. Scott and Allison Gilbert — the faces behind South Fork Physical Therapy — have provided after-school and summer job opportunities to various high school and college students from Scott County who are interested in entering the profession, and four of those SFPT technicians have gone on to become doctors of physical therapy. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that two of them — Dr. Cody Carson and Dr. Lexi Jeffers — are now back where they started, at South Fork.

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“Getting to spend time with these young people as they grow over the years makes us even more confident in them both as therapists and as positive professional influences in this community,” said Allison Gilbert. She points out that South Fork is currently employing three local students and will add two more once the summer break begins.

“Having that real life experience not only helps them when applying to PT school, it also helps them decide if ours is actually the right profession for them,” she added.

It has now been 14 years since the Gilberts started South Fork Physical Therapy, first in Huntsville before later adding a second clinic in Oneida. Scott grew up in Oneida, while Allison is a native of Harlan, Ky., who has become just as integrated into Scott County as her husband since the couple moved back to the local community in 2002. They met when Scott completed his degree at ETSU and began his first job at the Harlan clinic where Allison was working summers while working on her own physical therapy degree from the University of Kentucky.

From one clinic to two, South Fork Physical Therapy has now also grown from two doctors of physical therapy to four with the additions of Carson and Jeffers. The additions will help South Fork Physical Therapy better serve the community, the Gilberts say.

“For most conditions treated in physical therapy, research shows that the long-term improvements come as a result of exercise and manual therapy, especially joint mobilizations,” Allison Gilbert said. “Most in our profession agree that joint mobilizations should be performed by a licensed doctor of physical therapy as opposed to a physical therapist assistant.”

Having four doctors of physical therapy allows South Fork to not only treat more patients without compromising their level of care, but also ensures that each patient always has access to a doctor at every visit.

“Our goal is to improve the patient’s condition in the shortest time possible,” Scott Gilbert said. “By having access to a doctor at each session, our patients can and do have their treatments altered or changed at each session to ensure that they are maximizing their time with us and tolerating their treatments well.”

Carson is a graduate of Oneida High School; Jeffers is a graduate of Scott High School. Both were active in sports during their high school years, and both decided they wanted to enter the physical therapy field through experiences at South Fork Physical Therapy. Both are also trained to specialize in certain areas — such as pediatric physical therapy for Jeffers and orthopedic therapy and geriatrics for Carson.

“For years, Scott and I have had to be interchangeable in regard to our patients,” Allison Gilbert said. “Necessity has dictated that we both treat patients of all types with all diagnoses. Having additional doctors of physical therapy will allow each of us the opportunity to educate ourselves further in more specific areas and thus provide better, more specialized care to every patient that comes through our doors.”

A Focus On Community

As South Fork Physical Therapy has expanded, having native Scott Countians on board is a luxury that the Gilberts are counting on to pay dividends. Both Carson and Jeffers are already deeply engrained within the local community, something that did not change as they left home to attend school in other places. Jeffers is active with her church, Fairview Missionary Baptist, and enjoys four-wheeling in the mountains during the summer months, while Carson is a youth basketball referee at the Boys & Girls Club and was an assistant basketball coach at Oneida High School last season.

“I hired a couple of physical therapists that weren’t from here several years ago when I managed a clinic for a large company in Oneida,” Scott Gilbert said. “They were good physical therapists but never seemed to make much of an effort to become part of the community. They just did their job and went home. We’re happy to have Lexi and Cody on our staff because we think it’s nice for both the patients and physical therapists to work with their friends and neighbors. We like the personal touch of treating those people we are going to see again at Walmart, at church on Sunday, or at a local ballgame. It’s very rewarding to see someone you’ve helped out in the community, and as a physical therapist, it just makes you want to do better for your patients.”

The Gilberts have long volunteered their time at football and basketball games, particularly at the high school level, so they can be on hand to examine and treat injuries that occur during the games. That task will be made easier with the addition of Carson and Jeffers, allowing South Fork Physical Therapy to have a presence at many more games and further strengthen the clinic’s ties with the community.

“We want all of our staff to invest themselves into the betterment of Scott County,” Allison Gilbert said. “We want them to be proud of where they work and to know that they are helping someone in some way every day.”

A Diversified Practice

Everyone knows that physical therapy is intended to help patients recover after operations, such as knee replacements, to help them recover from injuries, and for general back and neck pain.

But there’s more to it than that, the Gilberts say. Just one case in point? Vertigo.

“Most people aren’t aware that we treat vertigo and dizziness,” Allison Gilbert said.

In fact, most people who suffer from vertigo may not be aware that it could be caused by a common condition known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Many people suffer from it, and treatment could be as simply as a few physical therapy sessions.

“I treated a lady recently who had suffered from vertigo for 15 or 20 years,” Allison Gilbert said. “It turned out that she had BPPV, one of the most common causes of vertigo. She was treated for three sessions, and her symptoms resolved.”

Another common ailment that can be treated with physical therapy is weakness and balance deficits, which become common as people grow older.

“This is a common condition that responds well to physical therapy intervention,” Scott Gilbert said. “Most of our patients with this diagnosis report improvement in symptoms within two weeks of starting therapy.”

Other diagnoses that can be treated by physical therapy include TMJ disorders, which cause jaw pain, plantar fasciitis and sciatica, or lower back pain. In fact, lower back pain during pregnancy is a common diagnosis that can be treated successfully with physical therapy.

Pediatric patients can be treated for conditions that include developmental delay, torticollis and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“Allison and now Dr. Lexi both have a heart for taking care of our youngest patients,” Scott Gilbert said.

Finally, pain caused by arthritis can often be treated with physical therapy.

“I’ve talked to several people who assume that because they have arthritis, nothing can be done to alleviate their symptoms,” Scott Gilbert said. “While there is no cure for arthritis, we can frequently improve the pain, stiffness and weakness in arthritic joints.”

Towards the Future

So what’s next for South Fork Physical Therapy? The past 14 years have brought about many changes for a practice that began with a single clinic in the Grace Professional Centre in Huntsville. When asked where they hope to be in 10 years, the Gilberts say that is in God’s hands.

“In 10 years we hope to be wherever God wants us to be, and only He knows where that will be,” Allison Gilbert said. “We certainly haven’t ruled out clinics in other locations, but Scott County is our home and where we are thankful to be.”

This story is the April 2018 installment of Business Spotlight, presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version can be found on page B8 of the April 19, 2018 edition.

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