When recovering from a physical injury, it’s important to maintain some level of physical activity and exercise. While the early stages of recovery will mostly be focused on letting your body heal, working on improving range of motion, and restoring mobility to the affected area, performing some form of therapeutic exercise is extremely important for the overall recovery process.
The Dangers of Stagnation
While serious physical injuries may cause lots of pain and stiffness making exercise difficult to perform, it is critical that you keep your muscles active and strong. If you are unable or unwilling to regularly activate those muscles, the lack of use can lead to muscle atrophy. Muscle atrophy is the wasting away or shriveling of unused muscles; it can be a result of a disease or condition such as multiple sclerosis, but can also result from lack of use or injury. While physical therapy and other treatments can help reverse muscle atrophy to an extent, letting it progress can lead to loss of function and severe health risks.
What is Therapeutic Exercise
Therapeutic Exercises are essential exercises prescribed by your physical therapist or chiropractor in order to restore your function to the greatest possible degree in the shortest possible time. These exercises are highly selective and vary from patient to patient depending on their individual condition and needs. Generally, they all focus on developing, improving, and/or maintaining one’s strength, balance, stability, flexibility, mobility, and cardio-respiratory or muscular endurance. Working on all of these aspects simultaneously provides the most holistic approach to recovery.
The Science Behind It
When it comes to muscle growth and development, muscle cells are one of the few cell types in the body which don’t naturally reproduce and replicate. This is part of the reason why severe muscle injuries and tears take such a long time to heal and why physical therapy and rehabilitation is so important. When muscle tissue is damaged, it is usually repaired with scar tissue, not muscle tissue, which explains the pain, stiffness, and lack of mobility that comes as a result. Scar tissue doesn’t have the elasticity that muscle tissue has, so it won’t have the same range of motion or tensile strength. Scar tissue not only decreases the functionality of your muscles, but the lack of elasticity also increases the risk of re-injury if you overwork the affected area.
If the muscle doesn’t replicate, you might be wondering how bodybuilders and athletes build such large muscles. While the cells themselves don’t replicate, the contractile units that determine your muscle strength can. These contractile units, or sarcomeres, grow and replicate as part of the healing and repair process caused by microtears. The difference between these micro tears and a tear that would be considered an injury is the bleeding and swelling associated with an injury. The micro tears don’t cause the bleeding that injuries do, allowing the sarcomeres to replicate and build muscle without forming scar tissue. The building of these sarcomeres is one of the main goals of therapeutic exercise, which helps restore the muscle’s strength.
What if I Tear a Muscle?
If you feel any sharp pain or severe cramping during an exercise, advise your physical therapist immediately so that they can assist you. If you are not at treatment when it happens, it is important to take steps to minimize the damage. The best way to do this is through the R.I.C.E. method. Note that this is only a temporary approach to reduce the immediate pain of an injury and should be used short-term (2-4 hours after injury).
- Rest: Immediately stop whatever exercise you were doing and try to rest the muscle in question. Putting extra strain on it will only make the swelling worse, which is what you’re looking to minimize. The swelling is the result of mild internal bleeding, which will start the body’s repair process and form scar tissue.
- Ice: You’ll want to apply ice to the area as soon as you can. While a bag of crushed ice is best, an ice block, commercial ice pack, or bag of frozen peas will do in a pinch. Even soaking the joint in or running it under cold tap water is better than nothing if you don’t have access to ice. This will help reduce swelling by slowing the flow of blood to the affected area.
- Compress: Compress the affected area to help keep swelling down. Using a compression band is ideal, but tying a bandage or towel tightly around the area will do just fine.
- Elevate: Elevate the affected area above your heart (consider laying down if you injure your legs). This will slow the blood flow to the affected area, reducing swelling.
After initial pain reduction takes place, the R.I.C.E. method should be replaced with A.R.I.T.A. or Active Recovery Is The Answer. Contact your therapist to let them know about the injury. They will be able to adjust your program to compensate for the injury and supply exercises that will help deal with the new injury.
Are You Recovering From an Injury?
If you are in the Miami area and recovering from an injury, ask your physician about physical therapy. You can also contact the USA Sports Therapy team for more information about locations, treatment services, and if physical therapy may be a good option for your recovery. Feel free to contact us by phone, email, or via the contact form on each location’s page for more information.