By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

SEEING how physical therapy has not been developed as a specialized practice here, a Filipino doctor of PT has returned to the country with the end game of changing how what he does is perceived and appreciated locally.

Changing the local PT game
Some of the equipment at ActiveLife Chicago Physical Therapy Clinic.

Dr. Ronald Samaniego, doctor of physical therapy, has opened ActiveLife Chicago Physical Therapy Clinic which focuses on pain management.

The facility deals with issues on ligaments, muscles, and nerves which are within the realm of physical therapy, leaning towards manual therapy to alleviate a patient’s pain rather than relying on medication alone.

It is a type of service that Dr. Samaniego and his staff said is new in the country and that very few practice.

The clinic’s areas of specialty are neck pain (whiplash injury, morning stiffness, pain upon movement), back pain (lumbar strain, scoliosis, ankylosing spondylitis), shoulder pain (rotator cuff tear, frozen shoulders, shoulder impingements), knee pain (patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia patella, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis), hip and knee pain rehabilitation after surgery (total knee/total hip replacement, shoulder arthroplasty, hip resurfacing), and diabetic neuropathy (a tingling sensation or pain in the hands or feet).

It also attends to injuries due to sports, auto accidents, and work.

The clinic currently has nine branches in the cities of Mandaluyong, Quezon, Muntinlupa, Manila, and Caloocan, as well as in the province of Laguna, with plans to open more clinics and go nationwide.

“Physical therapy is something that is not really explored in the country. It has been left behind for 20 to 30 years already. So I brought back technology and knowledge from the States to do something about it,” said Dr. Samaniego, who opened his first clinic in the country less than a year ago, in a recent chat with BusinessWorld and some online writers.

Doc Ron, as most of his patients refer to him, received his Bachelors in Physical Therapy from Fatima University and his Doctor in Physical Therapy at Utica College, New York.

He plied his specialty for 14 years in the United States before deciding to come home to the Philippines and start his practice here.

“I felt I already reached my ceiling there so I thought what else is there to explore and I decided to come back here and share my knowledge and help physical therapists here since nothing is being done here,” Dr. Samaniego said.

“Usually here PTs do hot compress, which I call ‘Lolo’s hot pack therapy,’ as well as cold compress and ultrasound with the gel, and let you do random exercises. None of it is really corrective. Unfortunately that is how things are done here in the Philippines. What we do is quite different. We assess the situation, where the pain is coming from. We are very direct in telling the patients what to expect and what can still be done. We do not promise things we cannot deliver on. We have a lot of equipment that only we have here,” he added.

This includes the use of shockwave to break down scar tissue adhesions and muscle spasms, high-intensity laser to accelerate healing and decrease pain, and microcurrents to accelerate healing, decrease pain, and reduce muscle spasms.

Sports therapy is also something Dr. Samaniego said they want to tap into.

“The current situation of sports therapy here is poor. The Lolo’s hot pack therapy is something they do as well with athletes. And we know athletes function at a high level. So we are trying to change that in a way with our knowledge, with our technology. We do corrective management instead of just patching it up like asphalt then it comes back. We don’t want pain to come back,” said Dr. Samaniego, who worked as a consultant with the Milwaukee Bucks in the National Basketball Association back in the States.

Changing the local PT game
Dr. Ronald Samaniego and his staff attending to a patient.

And what they are doing is not going unnoticed with a number of former and current athletes from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as well as hip-hop dancers availing of the clinics’ services.

“I had them check my back spasm, lower back. They treated it with these machines and their staff is very knowledgeable and good. They treated me well and after a couple of sessions my back felt better and now I’m moving a lot better. They have prevented it. I continue to have sessions with them,” said Brian Heruela, point guard for PBA team San Miguel, in a separate interview.

“It’s very important because for us athletes — our body is our foundation. We have to take care of our bodies right. Going to the right people for therapy to work on you will help a lot in the long run,” the pro cager added.

Apart from offering their kind of physical therapy here, another reason Dr. Samaniego opened ActiveLife Chicago Physical Therapy Clinic is to show and highlight to Filipinos what physical therapists are capable of doing.

While they may not have an “M.D.” tagged to their names, Doc Ron said the physical therapists know their trade and know what they are talking about.

“Medical doctors in my world do not have a say because they are not PTs. But here physical therapists listen to what doctors say, like ‘put this hot compress here and do this and do that.’ I don’t think that should necessarily be the case,” he said.

He, however, admitted that changing how physical therapy is perceived as a profession in the Philippines would take time.

“We encounter a lot [of] challenges here. One is people are not really aware of [what] we are and what we do. People come into our clinics and ask if you guys do massage. And it’s really insulting but you cannot lash out at them. There is a lot of education that needs to be done in the Philippines,” said Dr. Samaniego, even as he underscored that physical therapists should be given more “autonomy” here to do their thing.

Still, Dr. Samaniego is not deterred to see his mission and vision through.

“Physical therapy is a good entry level to the health-care field, definitely. We have a life. And we work with people and they like us. It is a gratifying profession despite being overlooked here. You can earn from it for sure but you have to work for it,” he said.

Dr. Samaniego went on to say that Filipinos should be mindful of pain and pain management and not just rely on instinct and self-treatment.

“If you feel something, you should go and see a physical therapist — not the regular PT though. You have to do your due diligence. It may not necessarily with us. It could be with others. But the bottom line is you should seek the right treatment to get the right result,” he said.

ActiveLife Chicago Physical Therapy clinics are open from Monday to Saturday. For details, visit