If you are like most people, getting injured or having surgery will likely interrupt your fitness routine. Many people stop exercising after an injury because they believe they need to conserve energy and protect the afflicted area. Although you want to ensure you don’t further damage the site, post-injury (or post-surgery) exercise and range of motion therapy is an important part of the healing process.
Following an injury or surgery, it is not uncommon for surrounding muscles to weaken and joints become stiff due to a lack of use. In fact, when a joint is immobilized, muscles start to break down within 24 hours. Unfortunately, for each week you refrain from exercise and protect injured tissue, you can expect it to take two weeks of rehabilitation exercise in order to regain strength and range of motion in that area.
Additionally, it’s important to realize that when a doctor or physical therapist tells you it will take six weeks to heal, that timeframe is dependent on you doing the proper exercise and associated rehabilitation. If you don’t adhere to your rehab schedule, you are not likely to heal “on time”, and in some cases may never return to your “normal” levels. While it is important that you don’t overwork the afflicted area and do more damage, with proper supervision you can (and should) continue a daily exercise program that will encourage healing.
3 Phases of Exercise Rehabilitation
Inflammation (Acute) Phase:
After an injury, the body responds with inflammation at the affected area. Inflammation is needed for healing, but must also be properly managed so that it does not interfere with the process of rehabilitation. The first goal of treatment during this phase is to provide an adequate atmosphere for tissue regeneration. Generally, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation are the immediate treatments. However, it is also important to maintain the health of surrounding tissue as well as the rest of the body. Exercises that protect the injured structures while working others will help minimize muscle atrophy, and keep the healthy tissue strong and flexible so that it can help support the weak/injured area. Additionally, adjusting your program so that other body parts maintain their strength and flexibility helps keep blood circulating which aids in healing. Generally, you can start stretching the muscles in the affected area very gently, while performing regular stretching in the rest of the body. And, to maintain muscle tone around the injury, sets of repetitive isometric contractions may be appropriate.
The Recovery Phase:
As the pain and swelling diminish, you begin regaining your range of motion, strength, and endurance. During this phase, warm your muscles with heat or through aerobics before you start stretching or do any joint movement of the injured area. At this point, you can slowly start adding active movement of the injured area, gradually increase the intensity of stretching, and begin adding a light resistance to your exercising of the area. If you experience any pain or swelling, use ice and back off a bit while still exercising.
The Functional Phase:
As you work your way back to full capacity, you should slowly test your limitations. Using swelling and pain as your indicators, start increasing your exercise time and intensity. Your goal during this phase is to prevent injury to the afflicted tissues and surrounding area, while gradually working back to complete health. With that in mind, apply ice as needed, don’t be a hero and push yourself so hard that you end up doing more harm than good, and make sure you engage in your rehabilitation exercises daily for the most benefit in the shortest amount of time.
Of course, the key to all rehabilitation is proper supervision and form . Too many people think they can heal themselves, yet what happens many times is they end up with a bigger injury than they started with. If you or someone you know has muscular pain, stress, tightness, restricted joint range of motion, etc., please check out my signature service, Range Of Motion Stretch Therapy.