When it comes to rehab from surgery or an injury, it's a whole new ball game these days. Gone are long stretches of bed rest and weeks off from work. Today, doctors want you going right away with a round of physical therapy. That's because research suggests it's safe and leads to a speedier, better recovery.
"Treatment has become more aggressive," says Kosta Kokolis, PT, clinical director of TheraMotion Physical Therapy Studio in New York. He says today's physical therapists try to create change and make corrections, instead of waiting for your body to take its natural course.
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In the past, your doctor would tell you to wrap your injured area to keep it still, Kokolis says. He would also suggest you take a break from your regular activities and rest in bed. But research flipped that way of thinking. Studies show that people who are active during recovery do better than those who take it easy.
Dan Collins, a 53-year-old media relations professional in Baltimore, is a shining example. He bounced back quickly after a spinal disc laminectomy.
"I believe much of that has to do with the fact that they get you up and moving ASAP," he says. "I went right into physical therapy the morning after my spinal surgery."
Years ago, if you had shoulder surgery to fix a torn rotator cuff, you might wear a sling for 6-8 weeks and hold off on physical therapy until 4-6 weeks. "Now my patients are usually out of the sling, except when sleeping, and start physical therapy by the end of the first week," says Brian Schulz, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.
Doctors today want you to start building your strength back up as soon as possible. The idea, Kokolis says, is simple: Use it or lose it.
In the past, your physical therapist may have relied on treatments like electrical stimulation, ultrasound, or iontophoresis to treat your pain. "But that doesn't really resolve your problem," Kokolis says. "It doesn't correct or fix anything."