Whether it happens on the court, on the job or at home, injuries happen. While there are some things that you can do to reduce your risk for injury – stretching, listening to your body, and avoiding repetitive movement – sometimes they can just be attributed to bad luck.
More than an inconvenience, the pain they cause can affect your mobility and quality of life. That’s why proper rehabilitation of an injury is so vital to recovery.
What is Rehabilitation?
Rehabilitation, or rehab, is the process that seeks to overcome the physical effects of injury, illness or surgery and improve function, mobility and quality of life.
The type of rehab that one may have to undergo depends on one’s injury and goals. This may mean returning to the soccer field after an ACL surgery, going back to work after a back injury, or relearning how to speak after a stroke. While, ideally, rehab aims to return performance to or beyond your pre-disability level, rehab can also be employed to correct body mechanics so as to prevent future injury or re-injury.
While your doctor typically manages the coordination of care, the rehab process really is a team effort. Depending on your injury, you may see a whole host of specialists during the course of your rehabilitation. For those with sports-related injuries who come through the Washington Sports Medicine Program, they may see orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, osteopaths, outpatient physical therapists and occupational therapists, and in-school athletic trainers on their road to recovery.
Components of Rehabilitation
Regardless of your injury, successful injury rehabilitation programs share core components.
- Pain Management: Not only is this an important part of overcoming the physical effects of injury, it’s an important step in mitigating its psychological impact so that the rehabilitation process may proceed. While this may include short-term prescription medications, there are also therapies designed to reduce inflammation and pain that may be employed as well.
- Flexibility and Range of Motion (ROM): In addition to the inflammation and swelling that occurs with injury or surgery, trauma can also affect the biomechanics of your whole body. Stretching techniques are employed to improve or preserve joint ROM and prevent injury to other parts of your body that have to work overtime and compensate for the loss of function of an injured area.
- Strength and Endurance: Because rehabilitating an injury can be a prolonged process, athletes often encounter muscle atrophy and secondary decreases in exercise tolerance, endurance and power. In addition to the healing properties of cardiovascular exercise and strengthening, they are also important elements in maintaining conditioning and aerobic capacity.
- Coordination: When ligaments, tendons or joints are immobilized due to injury, your muscles can forget how to ‘talk” to your joints (called proprioception). This affects your coordination. Starting with simple activities and increasing in complexity as rehab progresses, the goal is to perform movements as precisely and automatically as possible.
- Functional Rehabilitation: This final piece of the rehab puzzle involves fine-tuning function so that pre-injury functions can be performed at a pre-injury level. An athlete returning to competitive play in game-ready condition or a worker being able to complete specific tasks or motions to perform their job are a couple of examples of functional rehabilitation.
Visit the Washington Hospital Healthcare System website to learn more about how sports injuries are treated and rehabilitated at the Washington Sports Medicine Program and the Washington Outpatient Rehabilitation Center.