Gresham physical therapy clinic has been helping people move and move on with their lives for 50 years

Physical therapy has changed dramatically since George Eischen first hung out his shingle in 1985.

“Back then, if you had knee surgery, you would be in a cast for six weeks and then start physical therapy,” said Eischen, owner of SportsCare Physical Therapy in Gresham. “You wouldn’t even be able to bend the knee. Now, people are standing and moving the joint the same day. That’s just remarkable.” by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - George Eischen, director of Sports Care, examines Nathan Tyler who was injured in a bicycle accident.

Eischen is a second-generation physical therapist who came by the trade via DNA. His father, Clem Eischen, founded the SportsCare clinic in 1963, based on the belief that rehabilitative physical therapy extended far beyond simply exercising muscles atrophied by polio in a hospital setting. Clem advocated for the recognition of private practice physical, occupational and speech therapists among lawmakers, initially to give therapists the right to treat and bill patients covered by Medicare. Eventually, Clem’s persistence led to the inclusion of therapy services with Medicare and, most importantly, private healthcare insurance companies as well.

Today, SportsCare Physical Therapy is a far cry from its humble beginnings with two therapists in a small strip mall office near Troutdale Road. The company owns and manages five clinics in the metro area, employing more than 30 physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and office personnel. In 2006, SportsCare teamed up with Armworks Hand Therapy to expand services to patients requiring treatments of the elbow, wrist and hand.

The younger Eischen grew up in East County. He is a product of Reynolds High School and graduated from Oregon State University at a time when most colleges and universities didn’t recognize undergraduate degrees in physical therapy. Eischen earned his master’s from the University of Indianapolis in December 1985 and a week later began working for his father.

Eischen is aware that a lot of physical therapy patients leave the clinic after their first appointment referring to it as “the house of pain.” Therapists help patients understand that babying an injury or surgical repair until the pain subsides actually hinders recovery.

“I’ve had people ask me if moving an elbow or shoulder after surgery will do more damage because it hurts,” Eischen said. “We’re not doing further damage, but it’s our job to be up front about what kinds of pain are acceptable and normal. A lot of what I do is tell patients, ‘This is normal,’ ‘This is acceptable,’ in terms of the pain they’re experiencing. Therapy is painful as hell, but you’ve got to move that joint or appendage.”

SportsCare’s treatment room resembles a miniature workout facility, loaded with elliptical and weight machines and stretching tables. Individual rooms contain equipment used to pinpoint precise therapies requiring heat or electro-stimulation.

But lining the walls in the main room are framed photos of the some of the clinic’s patients. There are notables — Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Randy Couture, Barlow High School grad and Indiana Pacers basketball player Freddie Jones, among others — but it’s everyday folks who capture Eischen’s interest.

“I encourage my patients to bring in a picture when they’re done with treatment,” Eischen said. “Each of these pictures has a story. Neat stories. Everybody gets mad at me around here because I like to talk to everybody and find out their story.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Clem Eischen set up his first SportsCare Physical Therapy clinic in 1963 in Troutdale. A photo on the wall in the office shows the 68-year-old founder when he was part of the U.S. Olympic Team as a runner, in the 1948 London games. SportsCare’s obvious athletic undercurrent is a nod to the elder Eischen’s status as an Olympic runner in the 1948 games in London. A “metric miler” (1,500 meters), Clem was tripped by another runner in the semifinals, which cost him the opportunity to compete for a medal. Because Clem understood the dedication that applies to athletic competition, he began working with young student athletes early in his career as a physical therapist.

It’s a tradition the younger Eischen has maintained and expanded. SportsCare’s physical therapists also serve as athletic trainers at all four local high schools and in Sandy. They establish training programs designed to prevent injury through strength and conditioning, as well as agility and speed, and are present during games and practices.

“It’s a huge relief for the high schools, legally, to have a certified trainer on the field to take care of an injury or concussion,” Eischen said. “And it takes the pressure off the coach. He no longer has to make the decision if a player can or can’t play. Most of all, what we try to do is prevent injury.”

Eischen recognizes that not everyone who seeks physical therapy is a passionate athlete or weekend warrior. Mobility can change lives, he said, regardless of what caused its loss.

“I remember one of my earliest patients was a woman in her 50s, I think, who was in a wheelchair,” Eischen recalled. “I don’t remember exactly why she was here, and I only worked with her a few times. But I saw her a while later, and she was walking. I consider her to be a miracle patient.”

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