Empowerment Through Education
In 2016, Deborah Riczo retired from MetroHealth Medical Center, where she worked for 30 years, serving as a physical therapist, providing program development, and helping with administration duties. Yet, when she talks about her schedule it’s clear that she’s anything but retired. “I worked yesterday, I’m working today, and I’m getting materials ready for a one-day course on sacroiliac pain and pelvic girdle pain that’s being hosted by the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy,” she says.
The work Deborah does is through Riczo Health Education, the organization she founded in 2011. In addition to speaking engagements, writing and continuing education courses, she serves as a volunteer physical therapist for Womankind—a Cleveland non-profit that provides medical care and social support to pregnant women who don’t have health insurance. She also sits on the board of directors for several organizations.
Deborah has dedicated her physical therapy career to empowering women through education, and it all started by empowering herself through education.
Deborah Riczo in 2020.
Following her passion
Deborah’s career started in marketing, working full-time to put her husband through law school. When she was offered a sales position (a role the company rarely offered to women at that time), Deborah turned it down knowing it wasn’t her passion and that she wanted to complete her undergraduate degree and do something related to science and healthcare. “I went to the library and researched different careers,” says Deborah. “Physical therapy is what spoke to me—the more I looked into it, the more I realized that that's what I wanted to do.”
When her husband John secured a job in law, Deborah was able to go back to school. She needed to take an entire year of prerequisites before she could even apply to the physical therapy program. After a year of taking the required classes, she was accepted into Cleveland State University, where she graduated with her physical therapy license in 1980.
Empowering women through prenatal and postpartum education
Deborah’s first job out of physical therapy school was at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. A therapist at the hospital took Deborah under her wing, asking if she and another therapist wanted to be involved with the postpartum program; Deborah said yes, and the three eventually launched a business called Contemporary Physical Therapy Services. With contracts at three area hospitals, Deborah and her colleagues led classes that included prenatal and postpartum exercises and education, including the importance of relaxation and deep breathing—putting conscious relaxation into practice.
“That’s where it all started,” says Deborah—with prenatal and postpartum education. Ever since then, women’s health has been what I’ve focused my entire career on.” For Deborah, that has meant being a source of knowledge and support for women during an extremely important time in their lives—while they’re dealing with the emotional and physical changes that happen during pregnancy and postpartum.
She and her colleagues successfully ran Contemporary Physical Therapy Services from 1983-1993. During that time, Deborah returned to Cleveland State University, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Education and had two children of her own; a daughter named Alexa, and a son named Christopher. When one of her colleagues decided to move out of state in 1993, the women closed the business and Deborah ramped up her hours at the hospital.
Deborah presenting to a community exercise class in Cleveland in 2003.
More than 30 years of serving as an advocate for women’s health
Deborah worked at MetroHealth Medical Center for more than 30 years. As an advocate for women’s health, she helped shape a rehabilitation program for women recovering from breast cancer and worked with women struggling to recover after childbirth. “Many women have their direction in life change after they have a child because they may have problems with their lower back and their pelvic girdle—and that affects how they’re functioning, their self-esteem, and their body image,” says Deborah. “They may struggle to get their weight down, have abdominals that are weak, and it can affect their relationship with their husband, or even with their children, if they aren’t able to be as active as they used to. So, I feel like if I can intervene with some simple education and techniques it can be extremely beneficial.”
Deborah working as a clinician and coordinator of the Industrial Rehabilitation Program at MetroHealth Medical Center in 2013.
Using a patient-centered approach
Deborah says her focus has always been to help her patients meet their goals using a patient-centered approach. “If a patient comes in I instruct them on how to get changes in their body themselves. Sometimes I would do hands-on therapy, but then I would show them how to do that for themselves at home.”
Her passion for women’s health and the reputation she had gained as an expert on women’s health issues provided Deborah with the opportunity to present at national conferences, including the APTA National Conference for the Section on Women’s Health, which has recently been renamed the Academy of Pelvic Health. When she returned to school once again, working on her doctorate in physical therapy at Marymount University in 2007, her capstone project focused on an exercise approach she was using successfully at the clinic, which she later named the Pelvic Girdle Musculoskeletal Method, or PGM Method.
Deborah presenting a 2-day lecture/lab course to physical therapists at Ohio State University for the Women’s Health Section in 2016.
Expanding her reach through Riczo Health Education
Deborah graduated with her doctorate in 2009 and founded Riczo Health Education in 2011. Her goals with the company are to provide consumer health education on sacroiliac pain, pregnancy and postpartum, breast cancer, and health and wellness. She also provides continuing education courses to health professionals, presentations to consumer groups, and consulting services to healthcare organizations.
Deborah presenting a morning lecture as part of the Women’s Leadership Conversation Series at Cleveland State Alumni Association in 2018.
Reaching a wider audience through books
Deborah published her first book in 2018, Sacroiliac Pain: Understanding the Pelvic Girdle Musculoskeletal Method, and her second book in 2020, Back & Pelvic Girdle Pain in Pregnancy & Postpartum. Her desire to continue educating women and to reach the most people with a non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical approach was the inspiration for the books because, as she says, and as her long and successful career proves, “I’m a true believer in the power of education and empowering the individual to take back control of his/her health, to make healthy choices and lead a healthy lifestyle.”