What do you think of when you hear the word 'physical therapy?' Maybe you picture sports physical therapy for an injured athlete or occupational therapy for someone seeking independence. Maybe you think of specific modalities, like manual therapy, light therapy, neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or other treatments. Maybe you imagine children engaging in pediatric physical therapy, or older adults participating in geriatric physical therapy. There are many types of physical medicine and many applications for physical therapy! But do you associate physical therapy with surgery? Specifically, do you think of it as something you should do after surgery to help yourself heal quickly and safely?
Though we typically associate it with sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal conditions, or injuries from an accident, it's well-known that physical therapy is an important tool in recovery. It makes sense, then, that physical therapy would also be an important tool when recovering from surgery. After all, though surgery is ultimately used to heal the body, it also injures it in the process. In order to heal these 'injuries' quickly and safely, post-op physical therapy is essential.
But why is that? In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of post-op physical therapy and why it should be a part of your rehabilitation plan.
Relieve Pain And Reduce Swelling
When we undergo any kind of injury, one of the body's first responses is to flood the area with white blood cells. These cells help to fight infection and begin the healing process. However, this increased presence of blood also causes inflammation, which can lead to pain and swelling.
For as uncomfortable as it is, this isn't always a bad thing. Immediately following an injury, the pain and swelling encourage an injured person not to put weight or stress on the area, protecting it from further damage. However, prolonged inflammation can cause issues with chronic pain and chronic swelling, making it necessary to address in order to decrease pain.
While ice and elevation can help, post-op physical therapy is often necessary to really get things moving in the right direction and manage pain. Post-op physical therapy can help to reduce pain and swelling caused by surgery by promoting blood flow and lymphatic drainage. This helps to move the inflammatory cells out of the area more quickly, helping to decrease pain and swelling.
Improve Range of Motion
After an injury or surgery, it's not uncommon for a patient's range of motion to be limited. While this is often due to pain and swelling, as previously mentioned, it can also be the result of scarring. Specifically, it can be the result of the formation of adhesions, or bands of scar tissue that form between tissues and organs, often as a result of surgery. Adhesions can cause pain and limit a person's range of motion.
In order to improve range of motion and prevent the formation of adhesions, post-op physical therapy is essential. For example, if a person undergoes knee surgery or a joint replacement, post-op physical therapy can help stretch the muscles and tissues around the joint, helping to prevent the formation of adhesions.
In addition, post-op physical therapy can help to break up existing adhesions. This is often done through manual techniques, such as massage. By breaking up adhesions, post-op physical therapy can help patients regain range of motion, improve mobility, and increase their quality of life.
Restore Physical Function
It's not uncommon to feel weak after suffering an injury or undergoing surgery. This is often due to a loss of muscle mass as a result of being inactive during the healing process. In order to regain strength and restore physical function, it is important to begin strength training as soon as possible.
While you may be tempted to try to do this on your own, it is important to consult with a physical therapist first. A physical therapist can help you create a strength training program that is tailored to your specific needs and abilities. They can also provide guidance and support, helping you to avoid further injury.
In addition to strength training, post-op physical therapy can also help patients restore function by retraining them on how to perform daily activities. For example, if a patient has undergone hip surgery, a physical therapist can teach them how to properly get in and out of a chair or car. They can also provide guidance on how to walk, climb stairs, and perform other activities without putting too much stress on the hip.
Depending on the injury or surgery, neurological physical therapy may also be beneficial in a post-op treatment plan. Neurological physical therapy is a kind of physical therapy often used to treat Alzheimer's disease, balance disorders, and other neurological conditions. However, it can also be useful for those who have undergone surgery for a spinal cord injury, brain injury, neck pain, or other similar health problems. Such conditions can cause balance problems, especially in older adults, but neurological rehabilitation can help restore function in patients of all ages.
Prevent The Formation Of Scars
Again, surgery could be thought of as a 'controlled injury.' In order to fix what is wrong, your surgeon must first cut through skin and other tissues. While the surgery is still ultimately helpful, it can also cause problematic scarring.
While some scars are barely noticeable, others can be unsightly and uncomfortable. Moreover, they can limit your range of motion, cause pain, and in some cases, affect function. In order to minimize the formation of scars, it is important to begin post-op physical therapy as soon as possible. Post-op physical therapy helps to break up and realign scar tissue, preventing the formation of keloids or hypertrophic scars. This, in turn, can help to improve your range of motion and decrease pain.
Getting Started With A Treatment Plan
Post-op physical therapy has many benefits, especially when started early. The quicker you can get in with a physical therapist, the sooner your therapist can assess your needs and develop a treatment plan that will help you recover quickly and safely.
After going over your medical history, your therapist will likely do a physical examination. This will help them to identify any limitations you have and guide treatments specifically tailored to your needs. Your plan may include specific exercises, manual techniques, balance training, or even guidance on how to use assistive devices. The specific components of your plan will depend on your individual needs and goals.
If you are scheduled for surgery, it's time to reach out to the licensed physical therapists at David Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center. With physical therapy locations in Mount Lebanon and Southpointe, we're ready to help you get started on your post-op physical therapy journey!
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