It’s been an extremely busy and exciting couple of months for Vinh Pham, physical therapist and co-founder of Myodetox, a chain of clinics in North America that specializes in a combination of physiotherapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy. Launched in 2015, Myodetox has rapidly expanded throughout Canada and, more recently, the United States, landing its tenth location in beautiful Los Angeles.
The entrepreneur has been decoding the body for over a decade, with an emphasis on a holistic approach to manual therapy and movement. Thanks to the growing trend of self-care and humankind’s overall unrelenting obsession with aging—demand for Pham’s custom, preventative care treatments has increased, resulting in booked-out appointments and plans for further expansion across the U.S.
Patients of the clinic meet with expert therapists to coax the most potential out of their bodies. Whether it’s addressing chronic pain in your spine or adding three inches to your vertical on the court, Myodetox lays down the necessary bodywork to meet your movement goals. Your initial one-on-one session starts with a global look of how your body rests and how it moves and if you have any issues that can lead to problems elsewhere. A personalized plan of manual therapy and movement programming is put together by your therapist to, quite simply and effectively, create lasting change.
Pham credits his integrated methodology for his success. The Toronto native, who first built his business out of his condo, is breaking old-school thinking in the physical therapy industry and paying it forward to a new generation of therapists.
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I have been a physical therapist for 12 years now. I graduated in 2007, and I started working at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. It’s all about rehabbing people, taking people from point A to point B. I worked there for 2 years and I hated it, the worst experience of my life.
Why did you hate it?
Because in the hospital, you’re a glorified orderly. When a patient is in a hospital, they have so many more problems than walking. Someone with liver failure doesn’t care about how they’re walking and how it impacts their spine and body. In physio, we don’t get to spend a long enough period of time with our patients. The relationship is very [snaps fingers], “Alright, Mrs. Smith, you’ve been here for five days post-surgery, I’ll see you later.”
It’s very orderly. What was next?
Exactly. It’s very orderly. I did that. Hated it. Went into private care for three years. That’s when I realized I really like what I do. But at the same time, I also started to realize that the skills I learned in school didn’t really work in the real world.
The physio industry is set up like a factory in the sports rehab world. It’s all about running as many numbers as they can, so it’s not even about fixing people. I would see four patients per hour. You would come in and tell me your shoulder hurts, and I would give you a heat pack, and then I would move on to the next patient. I would see anywhere from 35-40 patients a day. I did this for a few years and I wondered, “Oh my God, is this what physical therapy is?”
How fast did you realize how ineffective the physio system was back then?
It actually took me a while. I would say it took me three years.
What moment helped you recognize that the existing treatment process wasn’t enough to get patients from point A to point B?
There wasn’t a specific moment. I always use this example: let’s say I’m a barber and I cut hair all day. You come in, I cut your hair for an hour straight, and you leave with the exact same hair length. That’s literally what it felt like! I was working so hard doing all this stuff for people, and it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working not only because of the techniques that I knew at the time, but because of how limited the health and education system was, and because of how the system is set up to make money, not to care for the patient.
What did physical therapy consist of back then?
It was machine-based, it was too localized back then. If you came in for your shoulder, it’s all that doctors would look at, versus the new-school train of thought, which is how it connects to the rest of your body. It’s more holistic. It was a huge issue because we can’t give permanent changes to people when we’re only focusing on one issue.
How did you get into manual therapy?
Did you ever watch the movie Bloodsport? In any martial arts movie where a young grasshopper has to learn from an older sensei or master, there’s always that scene where they go train in the mountains. I literally did that.
I ended up training with top people around the world. I went around the world and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to train with people. These guys are on the fringe of society. One guy is like literally in the forest. I’m not kidding. He’s this crazy old guy living in the forest doing his thing, and no one really knows about these guys.
How did these experts influence you?
They gave me everything. I didn’t come up with anything myself. Actually, in this world, I don’t think anything is created by us. We’re influenced by the world and if you can curate it properly, then you can make it make sense together.
The thing is, these guys live in different spaces, and I took all their practices and made it into a full picture. I made it consumable for the public. Part of the reason why they’re not as well-known as I am, it’s not because they’re not as good as me—they can run circles around me, they’re amazing! It’s that they weren’t able to take their skills and communicate it to the consumer in a way that they could understand or care. They would go straight into the science, so much high-level thinking that the average person on the street could not care.
When did you decide to start your own business?
After three years in the private sector, I started working on my own out of my condo in Scarborough, Toronto. I was scared of making rent working at a clinic, so I decided to treat patients out of my house and treat the way I wanted to treat. A full hour with my patient using all these techniques that I’ve learned.
Within two years, I basically built a full-on clinic out of my condo. I was doing it on the low, ducking security. It was just some crazy shit. I had the elderly rolling through! I really had clients from every possible age bracket, and I would post up in my condo gym or in my living room with yoga mats. I was booked solid for two years straight.
At the two-year mark, the condo board sent me a cease and desist like, “Shut up. Stop lying. It’s not working anymore. You’ve been doing this for two years. It’s time for you to get out.” I was like, cool. I’ve juiced it enough, which led me to open my first clinic downtown in Toronto. It was above a barber shop, kept it low-key and small, built that whole thing out and started from scratch.
From that whole experience is how I found my business partner, Scott. He was like, “You’re really good, why don’t you bring this to the world?” My intention was never to scale my clinic. My intention was to be successful in treating sports athletes or celebrities or to teach. I love teaching. He said I could scale this and then he came on board. We just started figuring it out. He had no idea what he was doing. I had no idea what I was doing.
I bet that was a huge advantage to you!
Oh, a hundred percent. Ignorance is bliss. We had no idea what we were doing so we built it completely off instinct and based the business on what we knew we liked and disliked.
What does Myodetox’s slogan, “Futureproof Your Body,” mean?
In the healthcare industry, especially rehab, we are trained to be concerned with taking you from negative five to zero. But when I interact with my patients, my goal is always to bring them from negative five to ten. How do I not only bring you back to your base level but build upon it so you’re even better than you were pre-injury, and also decrease your chances of getting injured again? That zero to plus-ten difference, to me, is what futureproofing is all about.
How does Myodetox marry bodywork treatments with preventative care?
The goal of good bodywork is to improve a patient’s relationship with their body, and in turn, that will translate to better functionality. Communication is key to any relationship, and if a person is unable to communicate with their body, things start to break down. Bodywork is one way to improve that communication and prevent that breakdown.
How does movement programming train us to become better listeners to our bodies?
Similar to how bodywork gets you familiar with how your body feels, movement programming helps you to understand how your body works. To me, death is essentially the absence of movement. The minute you stop moving, you no longer exist. Numerous studies have shown that movement increases blood and oxygen flow, which positively affects cognitive development, physical health, and mental well-being. If you take the time to really listen to your body, you would know that it craves movement!
How do you think we lost some of our body vocabulary as we got older?
Our education system doesn’t value physical education. Our world now values information and transfer of knowledge and computers. In some schools across North America, they’re cutting out physical education from grade schools through high schools. So now it’s not even being valued in kids. Those are supposed to be your formative years where you’re learning to grow and move your body. How do you expect people to learn? We should be teaching kids real-life skills like understanding your body and moving well…and how to do your taxes!
Are there aspects of preventative health that you think your business is tackling head-on that other therapists aren’t?
The rehab industry is set up like this: massage, chiro, physio. You come in with back pain, you go, “My back hurts.” If you see the massage guy, they rub you at random. The chiro guy will say that your spine is out of alignment and crack it for you. The physio guy will say that your back and your core are weak and to do these exercises.
Who’s right? That was always my issue. If you have a certain kind of pain and you see three different practitioners, then they give you three different solutions, and someone has to be right. And I remember from training with everyone from around the world that the truth is always somewhere in between.
Essentially, I try to fix everything, and depending on the situation, I will give you the correct technique to deal with it. But I don’t subscribe to one school of thought. I don’t even like the title of a physical therapist because it boxes me. If you’re in the industry, there actually shouldn’t be separation. These separations are man-made. It should actually be a lot more integrated.
That’s where Myodetox comes in as an offering. We look at it differently. We don’t do anything new under the sun. These techniques have been around for decades, but no one has ever put it together and tried to push it to the masses like we are. I’m trying to change the industry.
Can you share a patient transformation that you’re most proud of, that really embraces the Myodetox mission?
Her name is Nancy. She was in her mid-50s when I first started treating her. I was around 25 years old. She sees my staff now in Toronto, so she’s still a patient of ours. She was in the therapy system for years. She had seen multiple therapists for nagging hip pain that she couldn’t get rid of. On the first day I saw her, I asked her, “Can I see you walk?” She was walking from side to side and slouched. She didn’t notice and commented that no one ever watched her walk before.
In that first moment with her, she said, “This is the first time in 20 years someone has asked me about my walk.” From that moment on, I was treating her three times a week for a year straight. Back then, I wasn’t as good as I am now. She was my guinea pig as I learned about new systems; I would integrate it through her, and by the end, she had no pain.
She was on so many drugs and painkillers. Her stomach was always inflamed and hurting. She was on three different drugs to decrease inflammation in order for her to go to work or walk her dog. In that period, it took me about a year to help her to understand how to fix herself, and now looking back, I could probably do that in two months because of everything I know. It was a crazy process for her because it literally changed her life. She went from being on drugs to being drug-free and can walk fine. She literally retired two months ago. We still talk a lot.
That’s why she’s your Patient Zero! Did she inspire you in some way?
One thousand percent she inspired me! Because she trusted me so much in everything I was learning that she let me apply to her. Some didn’t work and we kept learning new stuff. She was a hard case because I was easily her twentieth therapist, and working with her made me realize how bad the system was because she had already been through it all.
Speaking of “Futureproof Your Body,” she’s the perfect example where now she’s retired and can walk and move and hang out with her son and eventually play with her grandkids. Life doesn’t end when you retire.
You were able to give her this new future she had never envisioned before, without pain or medication, because of the bond you made with her.
I didn’t think I was anything special. I learned from these guys, and I put it together, and it wasn’t until I got feedback from the world that I was like, “Oh, fuck, this is something.” I never looked for it. I never thought for a million years I could do this. The world came to me, and now I have to give back. I want to change the next generation of therapists so everyone is like me. I could open a clinic every day and still not be able to reach the billions of people on this planet. I want to spark a revolution.
What is your take on embracing the aging process?
The only certain things in life are death and taxes, so you might as well embrace the process and beautiful journey of aging (and get a good tax lawyer). At Myodetox, we are all about longevity. No matter who you are and what stage of life you’re in, our goal is to make sure you are able to physically do what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s my personal opinion that life only gets more exciting and enriching as we age, but only if we are healthy and able to move well.
Photos by Sean Lawrence.