“I was treated by Butch for a bilateral knee replacement in 2008. I developed both golfer’s and tennis elbow this year which was quite painful. After a cortisone shot, my doctor prescribed physical therapy in August and it has been very successful. I am currently pain free and able to function very well.” -Michael H.
Rehabilitation is a big part of recovering after having surgery. It’s important to understand that post-surgical rehab is a long process. While surgery can be done within a few hours, rehabilitation may take many months and even up to a year. And while the actual timeframe for recovery depends on many factors, it’s important that you are totally committed to the process. Keep in mind that post-surgical rehab is a progressive activity. It’s a complex process that’s a bit like baking bread: you’ve got to wait for the dough to rise before you put it in the oven. It’s the same with recovering from surgery. You have to wait some time to help the biological process do its work.
Why You Need Rehab After Surgery
The key goals of any post-surgical rehab program are to:
- Reduce pain and inflammation
- Restore range of motion and joint mobility
- Strengthen your muscles
- Help you walk and perform daily activities again
- Improve balance and proprioception
- Progressively restore ability to perform impact, plyometric, and sport-specific activities
Post-Surgical Rehab with a Physical Therapist
Physical therapy utilizes a wide variety of treatments and physical exercises to begin the rehab process. A physical therapist will evaluate you to determine muscle strength, range of motion, body mechanics, quality of movement, and postural alignment. After an evaluation, a physical therapist will create a personalized plan of care designed to meet your post-surgical needs for recovery, while working with your physician’s protocol. Physical therapists use a variety of hands-on techniques, known as manual therapy, to improve mobility in joints and soft tissues. Specific exercises are prescribed to improve movement. Other therapeutic modalities include cupping, instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM), ultrasound, heat, ice and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). A progressive strengthening program implemented to restore muscular strength and balance will be a critical part of your recovery. Lastly, when appropriate plyometrics and sport-specific exercises will be introduced in preparation for your return to normal activities and sports.
The most common reason doctors prescribe physical therapy after surgery is to make sure that your body heals properly from your operation. This could be to minimize scar tissue after arthroscopy on your knee or shoulder, or to retrain your muscles after a major surgery, like repairing an ACL tear. Keep in mind that your surgeon’s specialty is to diagnose and repair an injury, while physical therapists are musculoskeletal experts who are there to help improve the way you feel and function.