As a physiotherapist, the diagnosis or assessment is foundational in pin-pointing what will be the best mechanism and smoothest path to a patient’s recovery and how we should go about doing this.
However, as a rule of thumb there are few commonalities and guideposts we can follow in order to ensure we are doing things to improve our chance of a speedy recovery, while also avoiding things that will inhibit our recovery
The first is avoiding aggravating factors, movements or activities that exacerbate our pain or symptoms. Pain in itself is not a bad sensation and at some stage of your recovery, you will experience some level of discomfort. However, we need to differentiate between that mild discomfort pain that we feel while we push through our rehab exercises versus sharper insidious pain that is only worsening our injury. Physiotherapists can provide you with a guide on what activities to avoid during the initial incidence of your injury. This won’t mean that you will have to avoid these activities forever, but just initially as your injury heals. A good example would be avoiding lifting heavy objects for someone with lower back pain. While we might avoid this initially, we wouldn’t want to avoid this altogether as it would mean we couldn’t perform a number of common everyday tasks. A physiotherapist would get you back to lifting heavy objects once the initial pain has settled and you have done some strengthening for your lower back and leg muscles to ensure your body can handle the new loads.
The second is understanding what factors can ease your symptoms such as pain or tightness. These factors are often good to use initially when the pain is debilitating and unbearable. Common easing factors include hot packs, cold packs, stretches, heat or anti-inflammatory creams and pain medications. It is important to understand that although these treatments provide relief, they may not solve the underlying root cause of your pain. This is where a physiotherapist can step in and provide a holistic treatment plan, addressing not only your current symptoms, but also providing a focused rehabilitation program to get you back to full health and prevent your injury from reoccurring. A good example in this scenario is shoulder impingement pain due to a rotator cuff pathology. While it is fine to ease the pain with use of heat packs, anti-inflammatory medications and rest initially, these are not long-term solutions. In the long-term, we would need to look at strengthening the rotator muscles to ensure they’re functioning optimally.
Physiotherapy is one the best ways you can assist in your recovery. A physiotherapist can not only advise you on aggravating and easing factors as mentioned above, but they can use their judgement from their assessment to determine what type of exercises or hands-on intervention can best assist in actively speeding up the recovery process. Some of these treatment modalities might include massage, dry needling, spinal mobilization or manipulation, joint mobilization or manipulation, exercise prescription including activation exercises, strengthening exercises and stretches.
The last thing that can assist in your recovery is following the guideline time-frame set out by your physiotherapist. Physiotherapists will often set out a time-frame for certain milestones in your rehab journey based on how you are progressing in terms of your strength, range of movement, pain levels, balance and other parameters. If we can follow these guidelines for rehab we ensure we are progressing not too slowly, but also not jumping ahead of what our body is able to do and fast-tracking our rehab.
In summary, there are a number of things that you can do to assist in your recovery from injury, being avoiding aggravating factors and employing easing factors (initially), both of which can be advised by your physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist can also provide either hands-on therapy or exercise-based therapy to actively improve the rate of your recovery. Lastly, adhering to the guidelines set out by your physiotherapist in your rehab journey ensures you’re improving at the fastest rate, without skipping steps in the rehab process.