Physical Therapy is Important! Here's Why
Rest! It’s the first thing we do or need after suffering an injury or muscle pull. Injuries can have a debilitating effect on one’s way of life, whether they are hindering work, preventing exercise, or limiting interactions with family and friends. That’s why for some, the initial decision is to endure the pain and try to continue on with their lives. Obviously they soon realize that this isn’t the best idea. Those who go this route either end up in more pain or are just unable to get back to feeling how they used to before their injury. To these kinds of people we say: Rest!
For many, rest is universally recognized by physicians to be the first step you should take after suffering any sort of injury. The initial period after suffering the injury is the inflammatory stage, and rest helps you overcome this stage. But, the mistake that many commit is that they return to normal activities as soon as the pain subsides. The prevailing thought is, “feeling good, get back to work”, but then as soon as they return, they suffer the injury again and possibly are in more pain than before. As mentioned before, people don’t want their life to be affected, so as soon as they feel improvement, they set to return to their normal everyday routine. The truth is the injured body part is not in position to regain normal activity right after rest, therapy and rehabilitation is required.
One common question is: why is therapy required if I’m feeling fine or as good as new? Though extended rest may have lowered or eliminated the inflammatory symptoms, this does not mean the injured part of the body is in optimal condition. Resting after injuries to muscles, joints, or bones, may have dulled the pain, but the strength and support of these are still weak, and thus requiring rehabilitation. For example, if a soccer player suffers from an ankle sprain, and decides to play after a two week rest period without gradual rehabilitation, they might exacerbate the injury or have a sub-par performance.
So what does one hope to gain out of therapy or rehabilitation? First, the goal is to get back to pre-injury levels of endurance and flexibility (4). Physical therapists focus first on evaluation of the injury and creating a plan to bring back the strength of the affected region. Not all injuries are rehabilitated the same way, as different regions of the body and injuries require different regimens. For example, in case of ACL tears, the regimen will consist of endurance activities, flexibility exercises, and in addition competitive athletes will undergo agility training (3). For fractures, rehabilitation will focus on range of motion exercises and strengthening exercises (2). Pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation physical therapy optimizes breathing, endurance and function in both preoperative and postoperative cardiothoracic patients (4). Meanwhile, neuro-physiotherapy is geared towards the restoration of lost muscle strength and re-training of daily living activities and ambulation in patients with neurologic disorders such as stroke, cerebral palsy and Parkinson’s disease (ibid).
The next thing that rehabilitation focuses on is future prevention of the same injury. With exception of a freak accident, in which rehabilitation only focuses on returning to pre-injury levels, through rehabilitation, one will learn proper techniques on how to avoid future injury. For example, laborers will learn proper lifting techniques, and athletes will learn proper warmup and stretching exercises. In addition to that, they will learn how to keep body loose, flexible, and be well-conditioned.
It must be noted that physical therapy is not guaranteed to bring patients to pre-injury conditions. It is also much easier said than done, as many people aren’t able to commit to or stay motivated enough to continue physical therapy. Sometimes the reasoning is legitimate: insurance, transportation, or mobility issues. However often it boils down to just putting in the effort to commit to the regimen. For example, a patient might be optimistic about healing from a condition, attend a session, but feel defeated and hopeless from being unable to progress quickly. Some people either just are not willing to commit the time and effort, believe their injury to be minor, or even believe they can replicate the regimen on their own (1). The problem with this starting your own regimen is that most people aren’t sufficiently trained to identify what the problem is, and what course of treatment is called for (ibid). The wrong treatment at the wrong time, or with the wrong level of intensity, can exacerbate pain and make the problem worse (ibid). Also, there’s the case of rushing through rehabilitation, which is often the case with athletes. As previously mentioned, people are eager to return to everyday activity, so they attempt to shortchange the process to return to work or their teams. These patients are still at risk of re-injury, as physical therapy is a gradual process. Essentially, one should stick to the therapist’s plan.
Physical therapy has an excellent track record of success, as following the plan laid out by your instructor is bound to help you (ibid). In most cases, finishing a rehabilitation stint will likely lead to you regaining original capabilities and functions. Many athletes are able to return from sprains, torn ligaments, and fractures. However, caution must be taken that therapy isn’t a miracle worker, as some injuries are just too severe to return to prior condition. For example, permanent nerve damage and ligament tears can have bad outlooks. This doesn’t mean physical therapy shouldn’t be undertaken, but one should have reasonable expectations. Therapy in this case will still optimize your desired outcome.
If you have suffered an injury, trust the process and fully commit to the plan laid out by your healthcare provider. Any attempts at shortcuts, will most likely result in setbacks. The time spent carefully following your programmed course will most likely lead you to a happier, healthier lifestyle.
- Apnphysical. "Four Common Excuses for Avoiding Physical Therapy." APN Physical Therapy. N.p., 08 Dec. 2015. Web. 31 July 2017. <http://apnphysicaltherapy.com/four-common-excuses-for-avoiding-physical-therapy/>.
- Brett Sears, PT | Reviewed by a Board-certified Physician. "Here's What Physical Therapy Is Like After a Fracture." Verywell. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2017. <https://www.verywell.com/physical-therapy-after-fracture-2696424>.
- "Treatment for ACL Injuries." Virtual Sports Injury Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2017. <http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/knee-pain/acl-injury/rehabilitation-acl-injury>.
- "Why Avoiding Physical Therapy Only Hurts You." True Sports Physical Therapy. N.p., 17 July 2017. Web. 31 July 2017. <http://truesportsphysicaltherapy.com/why-avoiding-physical-therapy-only-hurts-you/>.