Rehabilitating After Injury
An instinctive physical response to pain—whether the pain is from a sudden injury or a chronic condition—is to control any action that might exacerbate the pain. In other words, when we’re hurt, we often simply “freeze.” We shut down and hold still, in an attempt to avoid experiencing further trauma.
Yet research shows that staying active is one of the most effective ways to prevent pain in the first place, and appropriate movement can even help manage existing pain.
“If people become sedentary to avoid the pain, they can make matters worse by becoming de-conditioned,” says Dr. Craig Dopf, orthopedic spine surgeon at Meriter Medical Group. “We don’t want people to be in agony—clearly, if they’re at the point they’re in agony, they need to settle down and cut back on activities—but as long as the pain is tolerable, we encourage them to be active and do what they can to stay fit.”
What’s key to effective activity, however, is using good body mechanics to prevent further injury as well as to build core strength. This is where physical therapists, including Meriter’s Brad Rupnow, provide a critical collaboration with surgeons to create an effective rehabilitation team. Dopf and Rupnow agree there is no cookie-cutter solution for pain, injury or rehabilitation; each person needs to enlist the help of experts to determine the appropriate and customized course of action.
“It’s important for people to seek care earlier rather than later for this very reason,” says Rupnow. “We want you to keep moving, but neither of us is saying people should work through significant pain; a lot of times that just ends up making things worse, because they may modify their body mechanics to nurse the injury. Getting in and getting care at the right time allows them to go through coordinated rest, to limit pain-generating activities, learn the correct body mechanics and technique, and then methodically and effectively get them back doing the exercises they enjoy.”
One very common barrier to seeking care is the fear of surgery. But non-surgical treatment protocols are increasingly effective, and many types of surgery have become much less invasive than they once were.
“Minimally invasive surgery is becoming more and more the standard of care,” says Dopf. “There’s less pain afterward and quicker rehab.”
Once a course of action is determined, several options exist that could allow injured patients to just keep moving. It’s important to work closely with a professional to determine what movement will aid and what will cause further harm. Experts advise always consulting a doctor to determine which type of exercise is safe and appropriate for your specific condition. And they remind patients of the importance of getting moving when it comes to dealing with pain.
At the YMCA of Dane County, several different exercise programs are considered safe, gentle and effective for rehabbing from many types of injuries, according to Sharon Baldwin, senior director of marketing and healthy living.
“Being in the water is great for someone with joint pain, for example,” says Baldwin. “It gives you a cardio workout and resistance, without putting any weight on the joints.”
The YMCA is known for offering a variety of programs, services and options designed to meet the needs of the entire community. Many of these offerings are effective for members who are rehabbing.
“Yoga, Pilates and range-of-motion exercises can strengthen and elongate muscles, with slow and controlled movements,” says Baldwin. “Tai Chi improves balance, helping to prevent falls. Strength training is essential for strong bones, and aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health, helps control weight, and increases stamina.”
The YMCA also offers LIVESTRONG, a research-based cancer recovery program. Certified instructors, trained in aspects of cancer, help participants reduce inflammation and painful side effects of treatment with post-rehab exercise, nutrition and supportive cancer care. Arthritis is also a condition that responds well to low-impact aerobic activities, such as swimming, walking and cycling.
“Any movement, no matter how small, can help,” says Baldwin. “If a particular workout or activity appeals to you, always consult your doctor to find out whether it’s right for you. Be sure to tell your instructor about your condition and avoid positions or movements that can cause pain.”
If you’re considering having a knee, hip or shoulder replacement and are worried about the aftermath of the procedure, it’s very possible that uncertainty about what you’ll face can actually feel overwhelming. That’s where Oakwood Village hopes to step in and help out, with its relatively new Prehab Program.
“There are so many things people want help understanding when it comes to a short-term rehab stay and what to expect,” says Keith VanLanduyt, vice president of marketing at Oakwood Village. “For those planning an elective surgery, most preparation is spent, understandably, thinking about the surgery itself and the temporary adjustments in lifestyle that will need to be made in the period following surgery.”
But what about rehabilitation? Many people have little idea about what to expect when it comes to the rehabilitation process. What exercises will you be asked to do? How many times a day will you need to exercise? What are the pros and cons of staying at a rehab center short-term, versus returning home for outpatient rehab services? Who pays for rehab services following surgery? How can modalities—such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound and short wave diathermy—help with pain management?
“By attending one of Oakwood’s Prehab Programs, you’ll learn these answers and more,” says VanLanduyt. “In addition to a presentation reviewing and answering rehab patients’ most commonly asked questions, you’ll have the opportunity to talk directly with staff from multiple clinical disciplines and tour the rehabilitation area.”
The Prehab Program is offered the first Thursday of the month at 10 a.m., alternating between the Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge and Oakwood Village University Woods campuses. VanLanduyt says these free informational sessions are worthwhile for anyone considering elective surgery.
“The program takes an objective, insightful approach to educating patients as to what to expect during a rehab stay,” says VanLanduyt. “You’ll take the mystery out of the rehabilitation process, and make your recovery after surgery easier, by planning ahead.”