The journey to recovery can feel like an uphill battle in the aftermath of an injury or surgery. The pain, limitations, and frustration can often overshadow the path to healing. Yet, amidst the discomfort, there lies a powerful ally: exercise therapy. Not the strenuous, push-your-limits kind of exercise therapy, but a gentle, strategic movement that can pave the way to recovery.
At Exercise With Care, we understand the potential of movement in rehabilitation, especially when dealing with chronic pain. Let’s discuss how to quickly recover after an injury or surgery!
The Stages of Healing
After an injury or surgery, your body needs time to recover and heal. Depending on the type of injury or surgery you have gone through, your healing process may take longer than others!
What are the four natural stages of healing?
- Bleeding – this stage can take up to 24 hours, depending on the injury. Luckily for us, the cells in our body work to prevent and stop bleeding.
- Inflammation – this is where we see any swelling, bruising, pain, loss of function or an increase in temperature at the injury. The Inflammation stage protects and starts repairing our body.
- Proliferation – begins 24-48 hours post-injury and lasts up to 3 weeks. New tissue will be built and blood cells will form.
- Remodeling – the most important stage of healing is the remodeling stage where new tissue matures. In addition, in this stage, your nervous system works to recreate and strengthen all the neuropathways between the injury and your brain. This is crucial to regaining pain-free mobility. This can last months to years depending on the damaged tissue type.
What Factors Risk the Healing Process?
There are many risk factors when it comes to healing from an injury or surgery. You can control some. Others cannot be controlled. What’s important is that we don’t give up and let the factors we can change affect us. Here are some common risk factors:
- Age – the older we are, the longer it may take for our tissues to heal because our metabolism is slower than it once was
- Genetics – our genes can increase susceptibility and could cause the bleeding stage to last longer
- Prior Injuries – if you’ve injured or had surgery on the same area as before, your tendons may not be as intact
- Activity – over-exercising or under-exercising can cause negative effects on your tissues
- Compensatory Movement Patterns – these may have developed prior to or since the injury, which now hinders recovery.
How I Healed After a Broken Arm
Let me share a personal story that resonates deeply with the ethos of rehabilitation through exercise. When I broke my arm back in April 2022, the pain was all-encompassing. The thought of movement felt daunting, almost impossible. But I discovered a fundamental truth: movement doesn’t always have to start where it hurts the most.
I began by exploring the parts of my body that didn’t ache. It started with simple movements. I walked around the house, gently turned my head from side to side, and even made faces while stretching my neck and shoulders. Making faces engages every muscle in your face!
Surprisingly, I found relief by twisting my torso, easing tension in my back. Despite my arm being in a cast, I could still work on small movements—straightening and bending my elbow, wiggling my fingers.
Each day, as I found new ways to move, the veil of pain gradually lifted. My doctor expressed astonishment at the speed of my recovery in just six weeks. The cast came off, and I embarked on strengthening my arm. Today, I’m not just recovered; I’m stronger than before the injury. This is how we use exercise therapy to recover after an injury or surgery!
Why Traditional Therapy isn’t Always the Best Option
Pain doesn’t confine itself to a specific area; it alters how we move altogether. We adapt, compensating for the discomfort, leading to changes in posture, balance, and movement patterns. However, traditional therapy often fixates solely on the injured part, neglecting the ripple effects across the body. Pain in one area can cause changes in our whole movement system, like a chain reaction.
With this in mind, you may wonder what the best option is.
The Benefits of Exercise Therapy for Injuries or Surgery
Although traditional therapy can help you regain strength in the injured area, exercise therapy helps with strengthening and pain management. People often notice pain for months or years after an injury or surgery. I have a secret! You do not have to feel this way.
Yes, there are moments when the pain feels insurmountable, drowning out everything else. In these times, introducing pleasant sensations becomes crucial. Imagine lower back pain consuming you. Instead of directly addressing the pain, redirect your focus.
If more than three months have passed since your injury or surgery, the tissue has healed. Now, it is time to heal your nervous system. As the neuropathways reconnect, you will feel improved balance, strength, coordination and, best of all, no pain.
With exercise therapy, start with sensation, the precursor to movement. You can experience gentle and pleasant feelings by using a soft brush, massage ball, or gentle vibration from an electric toothbrush. You can apply these on non-painful areas. Remind your brain of the parts that are free from discomfort and revel in those varied sensations.
How Exercise Therapy Helped Clients Recover from a Knee Injury
I recall a client who had surgery on her knee. Due to knee pain after that surgery, she unknowingly stood with a significant tilt. When I pointed this out, she was in denial until she was shown a photograph of herself. This is where exercise therapy shines—it takes a holistic approach, aligning and optimizing every part of the body while rewiring the brain’s map of movement.
The first step was to increase her pro-prioceptive awareness, where each part of her body is located. Did she feel equal weight on both feet, was her head facing forwards or tilted sideways, can she bend her body in different directions without losing balance? Body awareness was key to moving better and pain relief.
There was another client who had knee surgery in May of 2022. We met twice a week for exercise therapy sessions where we practiced various skills. Every week, this client would perform the exercises on his own. By July, only two months later, he was hiking in Newfoundland. In September, he ran a half marathon. We worked extremely hard to get him there. His keys to recovery: sensation and overall coordination.
Heal with us at Exercise With Care!
At Exercise With Care, we believe in movement’s power as a healing catalyst. It’s not just about exercising the injured part; it’s about rediscovering movement, retraining the body, and embracing a holistic approach to rehabilitation. Even in the depths of pain, there’s a path to recovery—one gentle movement at a time.
Ready to heal from your injury or surgery? Join us in a small group session every Thursday at the Bodhi Tree Oriental Health Clinic in Vaughan.
We also provide private 1-on-1 sessions that you can do in the privacy of your own home. We will tailor these sessions to your needs, ensuring you heal optimally. We believe exercise therapy should be accessible to all and we can’t wait to help you heal!