Rehabilitation, in its basic form, is the practice of healing to help regain as much function that you had before the injury/illness. It starts after being assessed by a physician to make sure no further actions are needed (such as surgery). After a few days, when inflammation has gone down, a basic rehab regime can begin. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. This is just a generalized outline, and you should consult your physician before starting any rehab protocol. For this discussion, we will follow a general outpatient (not being in a hospital) rehabilitation route.
Rehabilitation Stage One: Evaluation
After an injury, your physician may refer you to a physical therapist (PT), massage therapist (MT), or even a Chiropractor, depending on your needs at that time. Any bad body mechanics can be addressed at this time such as an off gait, slouching, hip hiking, body alignment and how to help correct those issues will be discussed. Diet and hydration might also be discussed as well. The therapist will palpate the areas that are painful and/or tender. If you are seeing a PT, they can assign you strengthening exercises and may perform ultrasound or E-Stim on the area, depending on their assessment. If you were to see an MT, they will work on the areas above, below, and possibly on the opposite side of the body. For example, if someone were to see me for upper back pain, I would work the pectorals, too, because they counteract the upper back.
Rehabilitation Stage Two: Conditioning
Once the pain has been reduced enough and body mechanics have started to be addressed, you can start to train the body to get back to homeostasis (balance). Stretching and strength training will be important parts in helping to reach balance, as will be learning about self-care. On my end as an MT, I always talk to my patients about stretching. I cannot stress how important stretching is to self-care and conditioning. In many cases with injuries, a PT or MT will have you do some isolated stretches to help get your full range of motion back.
This part can be slow, too slow for some people. But, if you are serious about getting back to “normal,” you need to stay the course. There are no shortcuts in life or in healing. It can be very discouraging, and there can be some setbacks, depending on the severity of the injury. You will experience soreness, some minor pain, and your body may have a temporary inflammatory response. This can be treated with Epsom Salt soaks, ice or moist heat packs, or rest. As the workload on the area gets back to normal, these are all standard responses. Listen to your body, be aware of what works and what doesn’t. But, most of all, please be kind to your body, and it will be kind to you!
Rehabilitation Stage Three: Maintenance
This is the easy one. It is the stage in which you are healed (for the most part). This is in which you can resume all daily activities with ease and go about your daily life without thinking or worrying about your injury. BUT you must be mindful of not going back to the way you were before your injury. This is a chance to start anew, to make changes to your body mechanics, training routine, posture, etc. to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap. At this stage, this is my list of go-to recommendations:
- Take Frequent Breaks (especially if you’re stuck at a desk all day)
- Stay adequately hydrated
- Get some form of movement/exercise every day
- Use self-care techniques to help with day to day irritations
- Maintain a good diet of vegetable, fruits, protein and limit sugar and processed foods. See your favorite local Registered Dietician for more help.
Remember, rehabilitation after an injury is never fun, but it is necessary to get back to a good balance and to avoid further injury. Some rest and little functional tweaks along the way will help you find how to make sure your body will function at its optimum state.