Injury rehab has been a mainstream term for a while and has advanced significantly over the years with combining the more active therapies, like strength training and activity plans, with passive therapies like applying heat or ice to sore muscles. Many clinics profess to providing injury rehab, but few do it in a way to effectively help people recover from injuries or get back to “pre-injury” status. For a successful injury rehab that lasts, there are some basics that should be applied.
Fundamentals for Injury Rehab Success
- Early and correct diagnosis. Any chance of having a successful recovery must begin with an accurate diagnosis, and the sooner rehab starts the greater chance of making a full recovery. To delay treatment is to let the injury become chronic and more time consuming to manage and treat.
- Individualization. Not all people or injuries are identical, so every rehab program needs to be customized for that specific injury. In addition, every person is different, their level of conditioning is different, and the everyday routine varies among individuals. For example, a car accident injury rehab program for a teenager will be different from that of a middle-aged stay at home mom.
- Early mobilization and strengthening. In the past there has been a focus on passive stretching and joint range of motion exercises prior to adding strength training and functional activities. However, if the pain levels allow, there is great benefit to introducing activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and light strength training in the early stages of rehab. An experienced doctor and rehab clinic should approve and supervise this.
- Muscle conditioning. Due to rapid loss of muscle mass and strength post injury, it is vital that a carefully constructed strength-training program begins as soon as possible. This may include free weights, body weight, and bands, and should be under doctor and trainer supervision.
- Motor re-education. This part of the rehab is vital but often overlooked. Many injuries can result from abnormal motor unit patterns – motion pattern gets altered or damaged. Neural feedback out of position. Comes from tearing or strain or sprain resulting in imbalances. Injuries can also lead to the development of these imbalances and motor pattern problems. Essentially all post injury rehab programs need to look at the motor control area and ensure correct muscle recruitment during any given activity returns prior to the athlete returning to full sport. More muscle belly turns into tendon – related to muscle.
- Proprioception. This is similar to number 5 above and often gets confused with being the same as motor re-education, however it is not. Many injuries (especially ligamentous) result in a loss of proprioceptive feedback returning to the brain from the injured area. This lack of feedback is one of the key reasons for a re-injury and must be addressed with the inclusion of balance and stability-type activities. – Wobble board example. More joint related =
- Range of motion. Post injury flexibility is almost always diminished due to scar formation, muscle spasms, inflammation, swelling and pain. Restoring a person back to pre-injury range of motion and flexibility measurements is imperative to preventing a re-aggravation.
- Incorporate functional activities. All rehab programs must take into account, and reproduce, the activities and movements required when a person or athlete returns to their sport or their most common everyday activities.
- Cardiovascular fitness. One essential part of a successful rehab program is the maintenance of cardiovascular fitness during the injury and recovery period. It certainly would be frustrating when the injury has fully recovered, but the cardiovascular has declined so much that it makes it hard to return to the activity you’re trying to get back to. Cardio training of injuries encourages and promotes oxygen delivery to the injured area and increases the healing.
- Psychology of injury. The impact physical injuries can have on a person’s mental state is tremendous. Nobody likes not being able to do what he or she enjoys. Therefor, it is just as important to keep a positive mental attitude and an unwavering determination to recover and return to normal life. So a well rounded rehab program needs to include incremental benchmarks and goals, and a therapist that is positive, understanding, but at the same time encouraging.
It’s important to note that regardless of the specifics of the injury, there are a number of fundamentals that need to be included in all successful rehab programs. The 10 listed above should be part of most, if not all, injury rehab clinic programs.