Easing Back Into Movement After a Physical Setback

If you’ve had surgery or experienced a health event like a sprain or bone fracture, you naturally want to get back to your regular routine ASAP. But depending on factors like your age and overall physical condition, you might not be able to just pick up where you left off. Learn how to get back to your daily activities and exercise safely.

Start moving now.

Whenever you experience a physical setback, the sooner you get back to moving, the better. And you don’t have to do it all on your own. Physical therapy professionals can help you get back into motion gradually and safely, with a customized recovery plan designed with your unique condition, fitness level and goals in mind.

Even if you’ve had hip or knee replacement surgery, you may be surprised how quickly you’ll be encouraged to get back on your feet. Recovery doesn’t include lounging around the hospital for a few days anymore.

“Fifteen years ago, everyone thought resting for a few days was better,” says Sheree Robinson, a physical therapy assistant with ProMedica. “But now we get patients up for physical therapy that same day because that’s going to start the healing process sooner.”

Define your goals.

What are your expectations for activities? Do you get to want to be able to cook your meals again? Do you want to resume working full time?

You may need physical therapy and exercise to improve your range of motion and endurance to return to activities of daily living. This includes going up and down stairs, getting in and out of a car, cooking your family’s meals, sitting down and standing up and driving — all the little things we take for granted.

Change your behavior.

If you’re recovering from injury, surgery or another event, it can be difficult to get back to normal. After all, recovery is not just physical, it’s also mental. “You’re changing your lifestyle, whether it’s temporary or long term,” says Robinson. “You have to be willing to change your thinking about what you may or may not be able to do.”

Discover the balance between moving too much or too little.

In order to get stronger, you have to work and stretch your muscles. “Your muscle has memory,” Robinson says. “And you’re giving it a new memory. But just like taking a class or a course, you have to do it a little bit at a time.”

This is your happy medium of exercise – not too much, not too little. “You always think if it’s good for you, more is better but that’s not the case,” says Robinson. “You need to find that happy medium of easing your way into it and just starting off slowly.”

When walking, for example, step it up over a few days to 15 minutes, 20 minutes and then 30 minutes — and see how you feel the next day or two after each increase. When you’re in the right zone, you should feel some muscle soreness over the next day or two. However, if you feel pain or numbness, you’ve gone too far and will need to back off. Remember, pain is your body’s way of telling you to stop doing something.

“The goal is to fix it, not break it,” Robinson says, “But people think they have to push it so far they can’t go anymore. And that’s doesn’t work.”

Recover well, stay healthy.

It’s normal to feel depression and anxiety when you have back pain or pain from an injury or surgery. But once you start to move and exercise, you’ll begin to feel better. To get — and stay — healthy, you have to be motivated to move.

“Exercise is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety,” says Robinson. “It releases endorphins and helps you feel motivated.”

Once you return to work or your normal activity, it’s up to you to remember what you have learned and continue to make small, meaningful changes. “Sometimes it’s something as simple as just choosing what you do during the day, like whether to stand up or sit down at work,” Robinson says. “Or to choose a parking spot farther away from the grocery store.”

Make an appointment or learn more.

Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. But with a physical therapist as your guide, you can work toward a new routine that helps you keep moving.  “Sometimes having that guidance makes all the difference,” says Robinson.

If you need help with recover or have questions about getting back to the life you love after surgery or an injury, we’re were to help. Visit ProMedica’s physical therapy page to learn more.