You’ve had an injury. You’ve gone to physical therapy a time or two. You’ve done a couple home exercises. You feel better now. So now what? Odds are you decide to return full-throttle back to your normal routine. Then, BOOM… another injury occurs. This injury could be at the initial injury location or somewhere new, but regardless, it has you asking yourself, “Really?!”, “Again?!”, and “Why me?!”. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. We frequently see people for recurring pain and injuries. The reason for this is typically due to a lack of fully completing the course of rehab before returning back to functional tasks.
Improving an injury is more than just eliminating pain. It is about getting you back to your favorite functional tasks and activities of daily living both pain-free and injury-free.
Each phase of rehab is unique and essential. Every phase should be addressed and progressed for successful rehab. Each PT session focuses on all phases simultaneously, but treatment typically begins with an emphasis on reducing pain (phase 1) and transitions to focus more on returning to functional activities (phase 3) as rehab progresses. Every phase is important and must not be neglected. For long term benefits and to reduce the risk of re-injury it is important to follow through with the phases appropriately.
Phase 1: Reduce pain and symptoms
Typically, this is the reason someone decides to come to physical therapy in the first place. When pain levels are elevated, it can be difficult doing even basic tasks. We understand how frustrating this can be, which is why our primary focus initially aims to reduce pain and the associated symptoms. Usually this is done through hands-on manual work and gentle exercise.
Phase 2: Specific strength and mobility training.
Once pain levels have been managed, it is time to initiate specific strength training and mobility work. This is the phase where exercises and stretches are given to the specific muscles and joints that are impaired. The goals in this phase usually aim to increase muscle strength and endurance, improve flexibility, enhance neuromotor coordination, or promote joint mobility. Oftentimes, once pain is reduced, people are ready to return to their previous functional activities without addressing this phase of rehab. However, this phase is important! It serves as the bridge between pain reduction and return to normal function.
Phase 3: Progressive return to functional tasks
After addressing pain, strength, and mobility, it is important to gradually return to functional activity level. In this phase, we take into account the activities you regularly partake in and enjoy, and we find ways to incorporate them into rehab. This phase is very specific, and our goal is to make activities applicable to your lifestyle while keeping you injury-free. The duration of this phase varies depending on what activities you plan to return to. For instance, this phase tends to be longer for highly active individuals (i.e. athletes, marathon runners, CrossFitters, hikers, etc.) compared to less active individuals. Nevertheless, regardless of your activity level, we all have functional activities of daily living that we must return to.
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