By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — When Donna Lang-Rice was growing up in Bridgewater, New Jersey, a close friend of hers suffered an injury that affected her back and knee, and required physical therapy to help recover. That experience sparked a lifelong interest in physical therapy, and Lang-Rice, along with her staff, have recently marked 10 years in business as the Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine Center.
"I used to ride my bike to her house and do her exercises with her to motivate her to keep going," Lang-Rice said, recalling her childhood days spent helping her friend heal. "I saw how physical therapy was critical to get her back to the basketball court and how the physical therapist helped motivate her as well."
Physical therapy rang two bells for Lang-Rice. She grew up with a love for active pursuits, everything from organized athletics to swimming and hiking in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, where her family would visit on vacation. It also satisfied her belief, which she learned from her parents, that she should apply her abilities to help others. Lang-Rice began her career working as a therapist for practices in Concord and, briefly, Pennsylvania, and from 1999 to 2006 she was director and and part-owner of Bow Physical Therapy and Spine Center, an experience she called a "stepping stone" to opening her own clinic.
In January of 2007, Lang-Rice opened Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine Center. The clinic was first operated at 401 Gilford Ave., and in 2011 Lang-Rice was able to move her practice into a building at 689 Gilford Ave., which she had purchased and renovated to best suit her clients' needs.
Though there are other physical therapy practices in the region, Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine is unique because it is a private practice, not part of the LRGHealthcare system, and because it utilizes the McKenzie Method of physical therapy. Lang-Rice said that the McKenzie Method, developed more than 30 years ago by a physiotherapist in New Zealand, offers a unique assessment and treatment strategy which addresses not only the problem in the short-term but also addresses the initial cause so that the pain is not likely to return.
"We're very specific with our exercises to try to limit pain, and to mechanically assess (the client)," said Lang-Rice. "That's what we're known for." Several of their clients come from out of the region, and some come from across state lines, usually seeking a therapist certified in the McKenzie Method.
Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine Center has grown in the decade since Lang-Rice opened it. When she first started, she was the sole therapist in a facility that had 1,300 square feet of space, including two private treatment rooms. She now has two other therapists joining her on the staff – Mitchelle Doyon and Jonathan Lian – and physical therapy assistants Maria Dalton and Jody Krajcik.
Lang-Rice sees further room to grow, such as by helping people who are preparing for or recovering from abdominal surgery, and especially by attracting more clients that live nearby.
Their challenge is existing as a small, independent practice in the shadow of LRGHealthcare, which dominates all aspects of the local health care industry. There are LRGHealthcare-operated physical therapy offices, but as office manager Asia Giuffrida noted, patients who are referred to physical therapy by a primary care practitioner are under no obligation to choose a therapist within their doctor's organization.
"They have the freedom to choose," said Giuffrida. She and Lang-Rice hope that they will consider Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine.
"We empower the patients to fix themselves ... and we assist them in the process with our hands as needed," said Lang-Rice. "The philosophy of Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine is to treat the whole person."
Donna Lang-Rice leads physical therapists Mitchelle Doyon and Jonathan Lian in an exercise of tai chi adapted for physical therapy. Gilford Physical Therapy and Spine Center, owned and operated by Lang-Rice, is celebrating 10 years in business. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)