Is Rehab Right For You?

By: Dr. Barry Kraushaar

Many patients who see an Orthopedic Surgeon arrive with a concern that the prescription for treatment is surgery. The fact is, surgery is a small part of the entire care of an orthopedic patient. While it is true that a surgeon may need to perform procedures to repair some injuries, there is an important role for Physical and Occupational Therapy in all the phases of patient care.

Many patients have discomfort due to muscle imbalances. These can be recently acquired, or they can be developing over decades.

  • Physical therapy is prescribed to assess as well as treat these imbalances. The field of Sports Medicine has been helpful in showing us the benefit of strength-balancing to restore function. The fact is, most patients with shoulder pain can be treated with this approach. A person can have a rotator cuff tendon tear or shoulder instability, yet they may avoid surgery if the remaining muscles are properly rehabilitated. Rehab takes time. With the supervision of a therapist a patient can be moved forward in a manner tailored to that specific person’s pattern of injury.

In order to rehabilitate properly, a patient must be comfortable enough to perform the exercises.

  • This is where the modalities of PT matter. Massager, electrical stimulation, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and ice/heat combinations are examples of comfort measures. Some patients need a gradual approach to rehab, and modalities are very helpful in the immediate postoperative period before exercises can begin.

Stiffness can be a separate category of difficulty that the therapist may need to address.

  • Muscle imbalances do not always explain loss of function. Sometimes stiffness is a separate issue that takes time to manage. A physical therapist can not only teach stretching, but they also can help the patient perform them. This can be especially true in patients with chronic shoulder or knee pain. The posterior (rear) position of the shoulder gets tight in some shoulders, especially baseball pitchers. The hamstrings tend to tighten up in patients with chronic knee pain. Therapists know to address this category of rehabilitation in addition to strength and comfort.

You are your own best friend in Rehabilitation.

  • The goal of Physical or Occupational therapy is to restore your function as close as possible to your pre-injured state. With your own participation the results are more likely to work. A good therapist will teach you techniques that you can use, and provide you with home exercises to make the improvements last.

Not everyone needs rehabilitation, and there is eventually a limit to the benefits achieved. The purpose of an Orthopedic Surgeon prescribing rehabilitation is to address the injured part and the surrounding region. So if your doctor prescribes therapy, there is probably a good reason for it.

Contact us today to speak to a Northeast Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physician to discuss how therapy may fit into your treatment plan.