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Physical Therapy Plot

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Sometimes people will be put in an incredibly dangerous situation where their lives will be on the line, whether it's being on the receiving end of an accident, an attempted murder, or even a debilitating disease or medical condition. If they're lucky, they'll walk off without a scratch. On the flip side, it can end horribly with the person dying. But you can also experience something between the two extremes — where you say No One Could Survive That!, yet somehow they do. They make it through, clinging on to life, though still at a great cost. Their bodies become so damaged that they might lose their ability to walk, or even worse, be just a step away from becoming a total vegetable. They can even lose their ability to speak. And sometimes, their mind becomes so scrambled, they may suffer a case of Identity Amnesia. Regardless, losing the ability to do things we take for granted such as walking, eating, and talking (among other things) can definitely take a toll on a person.

In spite of their current situation though, all hope is not lost. They can regain their mobility and the ability to do what they've done before, with the help of a physical therapist. Sometimes, a character won't go through with it at first because Therapy Is for the Weak. They might salvage their pride and try to live a normal life with their limitations. But after a while, their inabilities may get to them and they decide enough is enough; they want to become the same normal person they were before and agree to the therapy.

The therapy will, of course, be far from easy as it will not only test their physical abilities but also their willpower. This will often involve learning how to walk again while holding onto rails and exercises to build up muscles and flexibility. They need to build up their strength and stamina, and if they're unable to speak, they may need to take speech therapy. It's not just the physical challenges, either — there are often mental issues to address. Progress will not come quickly, especially with more severe injuries. They will struggle immensely, which can lead to frustration and anger at their predicament, especially if it's not going as well as they're hoping or they're not progressing fast enough. In severe cases, they can even be pushed into a Despair Event Horizon. More often than not, they'll have the support of loved ones such as family, friends, or even a caring therapist to help remind them no matter how hard therapy gets, they should keep working at it and they'll pull through.

The character will have to dig deep to find the motivation to get through this. They work twice as hard as before and show some real progress. In the end, after some ups and downs, they'll make it. They will have gained their abilities to move and walk again. They can talk as well as they could before. They'll be their same old selves again, filled with a newfound confidence that if they got through this, they can get through anything.

Can overlap with Wheelchair Woobie and Throwing Off the Disability (if their treatments go well enough).

This is a trope that deals with Character Development, so spoilers will be turned off. You Have Been Warned.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • ERASED: Satoru has to undergo this to regain his strength and mobility after spending 15 years in a coma due to a murder attempt.
  • Lyrical Nanoha:
    • Happens in a flashback in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, where we see that Nanoha suffered a near-Career-Ending Injury during the Time Skip following the previous season and had to re-learn how to walk, let alone how to cast magic and to fly. This incident also facilitates much of her character development, as it causes her to abandon her earlier gung-ho attitude to magical combat and be much more respectful of her own body's limits. She also reconsiders her attitude to teaching (since she herself is a mostly self-taught mage) and begins investing time and effort into training her younger peers so they won't suffer the same fate as herself.
    • While it's never actually seen on-screen and isn't as important to the overall narrative, Hayate also attended physical therapy to regain mobility in her legs around the same time once the cause of her paralysis was destroyed. The fourth Megami Sound Stage actually takes place on the ten-year anniversary of her completing her rehabilitation.
  • In Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish, Tsuneo undergoes one after a car crash when he tries to save Josee. He suffers from Heroic BSoD for some time until he finds the resolve to recover. One of the scenes shows Josee, Hayato, and Mai seeing Tsuneo finally be able to walk on his own, thus enabling him to study abroad.
  • Becomes a character note for Seiichi Yukimura in The Prince of Tennis and its sequel. Yukimura missed the entire tennis season up until the national finals due to a sudden neurological illness that needed corrective surgery and rehab. As someone whose entire identity is based around not only his tennis playing but his perfect winning streak, he struggles with having to work his way back to the courts and suffering his first official loss when he does. Flashbacks to his physical therapy become an illustration of his personal determination, and seeing him work at it inspired Jusaburo Mouri, an older student, to work harder, too.

    Comic Books 
  • Bruce Wayne had to undergo physical therapy after Bane broke his back in Knightfall so that he could reclaim the cowl from Jean-Paul Valley. There was also some Florence Nightingale Effect with his PT Shondra Kinsolving.
  • In She-Hulk, Jennifer's co-worker Mallory Book was severely injured during a battle between She-Hulk and Titania, and spent months receiving physical therapy from Awesome Andy in order to learn how to walk again.
  • The Oracle Code: Barbara ends up at a center that is supposed to help her and other kids with their physical therapy and independence, but the real plot centers around the way that kids there who won't be missed by people outside seem to disappear. Barbara uncovers a hidden basement where the kids are being experimented on without their consent to try and "fix" them.

    Fan Works 
  • Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights: Nanoha Takamachi's incident, mentioned above in the Anime section, is addressed in this story, though the circumstances are slightly different. As her part of the story begins, she is finally able to fly again after a year of rehab. Later, after Erika Kurumi/Cure Marine has her leg amputated above the knee to save her life, she is shown undergoing physical therapy and trying to learn to walk again while wearing a "dummy" prosthetic, in preparation for receiving an advanced Magitek one. Her therapy coach is Hayate Yagami, who knows a thing or two about learning to walk. Hayate is also mentioned to be helping Yuko Omori/Cure Honey, who is confined to a wheelchair after sustaining severe nerve and tissue damage while a prisoner of the story's Legion of Doom.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Born on the Fourth of July: Subverted. After getting shot (which damages his spine) during a tour in Vietnam, Ron Kovic spends months at a poorly-run Veterans' Hospital. He attempts to learn how to walk again with his crutches and braces, despite the doctors' warnings. He ends up having a bad fall that causes a fracture on his femur. He ends up back in bed, fighting with the staff over amputating his legs. When Ron finally comes back home, he spends the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Bruce Wayne's spine is crippled by Bane, then Bruce is thrown into the same Middle Eastern prison as Bane was. In this case, all it takes to bring Bruce back up to full strength and will is a good whack on the back (resetting the offset vertebrae), and a self-imposed re-training regimen.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Captain America: Civil War, Rhodey's armor gets hit and disabled during the airport battle while he's in the air, and the subsequent fall leaves him paraplegic. This also reinforces Tony's anger toward Steve and the other Avengers who rejected the Sokovia Accords, as Rhodey was chasing Sam when it happened. At the end of the movie, Tony is helping Rhodey try to relearn walking, but by the time of Avengers: Infinity War, Rhodey makes do with wearing the leg portion of his armor to walk. Surprisingly, it's actually Tony who is more outwardly bitter about the whole situation.
    • In Doctor Strange (2016), Stephen Strange is a smug neurosurgeon whose hands are severely injured in a car crash, leaving him unable to continue doing surgery. He starts doing therapy to regain his dexterity while going through an emotional meltdown. His therapist encourages him with the story of Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who managed to regain the use of his legs. Pangborn reveals that he fell in with the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj, but decided to use that magic to walk again rather than continue learning the mystic arts. This sets Strange on the path to becoming a sorcerer himself.
  • Moment Of Truth To Walk Again is a TV movie based on the true story of Eddie Keating, a Marine who gets paralyzed after getting shot in the head during a training session. In addition to Eddie working to overcome his disabilities, his parents fight for him to get the proper medical treatment he needs, even going straight to the military to help their son.
  • Raw Deal (1986): While going undercover as a member of the Mafia, Mark Kaminski joins Keller and another Mafioso to visit a cemetery to assassinate an FBI agent. The agent happens to be Harry Shannon, Mark's friend and boss, who's there grieving for his son (who was killed earlier in the film). This forces Mark to blow his cover, resulting in a shoot-out where the Mafia members are killed and Shannon is crippled. At the end of the movie, Mark visits Harry at the hospital, with Harry initially refusing therapy. Mark pushes him into walking by asking Harry to become his child's godfather in exchange for therapy. Harry accepts and manages to walk to Mark.
  • Regarding Henry: Harrison Ford plays a Workaholic lawyer who gets shot in a robbery, losing his mobility and speech as well as developing amnesia. He rehabilitates himself with the help of a therapist while trying to figure out a way to solve his family's financial struggles.
  • Stronger: Based on the memoirs of Jeff Bauman, a Boston local who was at the 2013 Boston Marathon, waiting for his girlfriend at the finish line when bombs went off and costing Bauman his legs. Bauman learns to adjust to his disability with his new prosthetic limbs as well as his newfound fame from identifying one of the bombers.
  • Warm Springs: This HBO made-for-TV movie starring Kenneth Branagh as Franklin D. Roosevelt, shows the future president going into physical therapy after contracting polio. He hopes to resume his political career once he has finished rehabilitation.

  • In The Babysitters Club book Claudia and Mean Janine, Claudia's grandmother Mimi has a bad stroke, and one plot thread concerns her recovery in the hospital. When she first wakes up she is confused and unable to speak but by the end, she has improved enough to go home.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • After Cinderpaw breaks her leg, Jaypaw decides to try and heal her. She struggles to catch up to her siblings and after she hurts her leg a second time, he gets frustrated with Leafpool's approach to healing her. By now, Cinderpaw has become too cautious to move, so Jaypaw has her exercise. He teaches her to swim in order to strengthen her leg, and by the end of the healing process, she has finally become a warrior.
    • Briarpaw breaks her spine after being crushed by a fallen tree. As Briarlight, she's managed to stay alive by doing constant physical exercises to keep herself strong, though emotionally she must now deal with a jealous sister and an overly doting mother. She never fully heals but finds a niche for herself by helping out with medicine cat duties.
  • In Martin Caidin's novel Cyborg, Colonel Steve Austin loses both legs and his left arm in a hideous aircraft crash and is fitted with artificial limbs that turn him into a [[Cyborg bionic super-soldier]]. But he still has to learn how to use those new limbs, which is a very long and arduous process, made worse by his resentment that the Office of Special Operations, which provided the money for his rebuilding, now regards him as their property and plans to use him as a secret agent instead of a combat pilot and astronaut. His fear that he's lost some of his humanity in the process doesn't help matters.
  • Following the events of Ghost Story, in Cold Days Harry Dresden has to undergo physical therapy. But since he does that in Arctis Tor, the Winter Queen often adds some unexpected elements to the therapy, which means that she is trying to kill him most days. Which has the added benefit of making Harry regain his abilities all the faster.
  • In The Ship Who... Sang, Helva is assigned to take a physical therapist to a colony stricken by a disease that's left many survivors paralyzed - even twitching an eyelid enough that a close observer can notice is an effort that raises a sweat. The therapist, Theoda, makes an intuitive observation and takes a five-year-old child to put through a grueling hourly course of laying him facedown and shifting his limbs as if he's an infant not quite able to crawl, which she absorbs herself in despite planetary government trying to interfere. It's having an effect by the end of the story.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for Laughs on According to Jim. Andy gets badly injured after playing football on an icy field and goes to the doctor with Jim. Given that his girlfriend Mandy had warned him about the activity, Andy needs to think of a way to lie to her about his injuries. An attractive, blonde nurse gives Andy physical therapy for his arms, where he imagines him trying to reach and grab her breasts while making fondling motions. Jim gets between the two of them and watches.
  • Thoroughly explored in Breaking Bad: DEA Agent Hank Schrader is grievously wounded by two assassins and briefly comatose; when he wakes up, he needs rigorous physical therapy to relearn how to walk, a process that takes up almost two full seasons. At first, Hank is very self-pitying and borderline verbally abusive to his wife Marie, but after becoming convinced the drug manufacturer "Heisenberg" is still at large, he applies himself harder to his therapy, eventually able to walk again (albeit with a limp he carries through the rest of the series).
  • In Bones, Hodgins references his physical therapy being challenging after he's paralyzed. He doesn't walk again, but the workouts to build his upper body strength enable him to hang onto a ledge long enough to be pulled up when he starts to fall after his rope malfunctions. He also begins to have muscle spasms in his legs, though he later loses all feeling in his legs.
  • Used mostly off-screen in How I Met Your Mother, to show the Time Skip between the season 3 finale and the season 4 premiere, Barney is briefly shown going through physical therapy from the injuries sustained on the way to the hospital to see Ted.
  • In Necessary Roughness, Terrence "T.K." King spends much of Season 2 trying to get back into shape after being shot but has to contend with both physical and emotional injuries. These eventually land him in rehab after he abuses painkillers to try and keep himself going. Unfortunately, his continued reckless behavior eventually results in another injury in the third and final season, leaving it ambiguous whether he ever truly recovers.
  • A Black Comedy example occurs in the Seinfeld episode "The Summer of George." George Costanza becomes weak from lack of exercise after being laid off from his job with the New York Yankees. When he slips and falls on a wedding invitation that he drops on the floor, he ends up hospitalized. The doctor tells George he may never walk again unless he undergoes rigorous physical therapy. The episode ends by showing George leaning on parallel bars, first struggling to walk and then falling.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation - in "Ethics", Worf gets injured and his options are long painful physical therapy with partial mobility from cybernetics or a dodgy experimental surgery offered by a visiting doctor. Worf, being a Proud Warrior Race Guy almost considers suicide but goes with the experimental surgery. He still has to go to physical therapy but he makes a complete recovery thanks to Klingons having a never-mentioned-before redundant nervous system.
  • The Dead Zone: Not only does Johnny waking up from a six-year coma require this to be a major element of the first episodes, Johnny bonds so strongly with his physical therapist he becomes Johnny's best friend and sidekick for the rest of the series.
  • CSI: NY: A few episodes after Danny is temporarily paralyzed in a drive-by shooting, he is shown taking physical therapy. At first, he says it's too hard, it hurts too much, etc. But after Sheldon, being a former E.R. doctor, calls him out on it, saying he's seen people hurt far worse bounce back much faster because they put in the work, Danny bucks up and tries harder.

    Western Animation 
  • The Legend of Korra: At the end of Book 3, Korra gets poisoned with mercury and nearly dies. Though the direct danger is eliminated when the majority of the substance is removed from her system by metalbenders, she is left stuck to a wheelchair and severely traumatized. In Book 4, a Whole Episode Flashback shows how she struggles through revalidation. Even when she is able to walk again, her PTSD still severely impacts her bending capabilities.
  • King of the Hill:
    • Peggy gets into a parachuting accident, resulting in the majority of her bones being broken. Eventually, she's taken out of her body cast and confined to a wheelchair. Peggy initially takes therapy sessions to get herself physically active, but Cotton thinks he can get her walking again. He puts her through Training from Hell, which eventually enables her to walk and stand up again.
    • Downplayed in another episode. Hank doesn't become crippled, but he ends up throwing his back out at work and goes on Workman's Comp. He takes a yoga class headed by an eccentric instructor — and while skeptical at first, Hank finds it effective. He also has to deal with an insurance agent who thinks he's faking his injuries.
  • A Robot Chicken sketch uses Mortal Kombat for this: at the end of a match, Kano rips out Johnny Cage's heart. This sends Johnny to the emergency room, he's in a coma for a while, goes through physical therapy, and returns to tell Kano that there's no hard feelings between them and Kano returns the sentiment. And then he rips Johnny's heart out again.