An injury or illness can impair your ability to perform even the most mundane daily tasks – getting out of bed, putting on your seatbelt or walking up a flight of stairs. And when even simple tasks become a struggle, you can imagine how challenging it is to keep up with the more demanding activities you love, such as swimming, hiking, arts and crafts, or even just playing with your grandkids in the yard.
One of the best solutions for regaining the pain-free movement you need to do things you enjoy is therapeutic exercise.
What is therapeutic exercise?
Therapeutic exercise refers to a wide range of purposeful movements and activities prescribed by physical therapists and related health-care professionals. The goal of therapeutic exercise is to correct or prevent injury, alleviate pain and associated symptoms, and improve a person’s overall function and sense of well-being.
Depending on the unique needs and goals of the individual, therapeutic exercises may look like:
• Stretches and exercises that target specific joints or muscle groups.
• Compound movements that involve multiple joints and muscle groups, often incorporated into more functional activities such as yoga or Pilates.
Therapeutic exercises are different from a general workout routine you might do at the gym.
For one thing, therapeutic exercises are prescribed to address your specific impairments rather than to simply improve your overall fitness level (though therapeutic exercises can indirectly help with this, too – more on that shortly).
At our clinic, we prescribe therapeutic exercises that can improve pain, tissue healing, balance, flexibility, posture, motor control, strength or endurance – whatever you need.
For another thing, therapeutic exercises are prescribed to match your specific stage of injury. What I mean is that the type of exercises you need for a two-week-old ankle sprain will be different from the type of exercises you need when you’re three months out from the initial injury. There are some critical nuances here in terms of repetition, load and exercise type that must be considered to help you get the best outcome possible.
As physical therapists, we’re here to help clients sort such nuances out. We’re trained in the musculoskeletal, neurological, physiological and pathological differences in the various stages of recovery and can modify therapeutic exercises to optimize these factors.
Benefits of therapeutic exercise
We have a lot of significant evidence supporting the use of therapeutic exercise for acute and chronic injuries and illnesses. One known benefit: Therapeutic exercise encourages your active involvement, which translates to better outcomes overall.
Don’t get me wrong – passive treatments like massage are incredibly beneficial for conditions such as back pain or knee pain. But research tells us that when you take a more active role in your recovery, you can expect to have better functional outcomes in the long run. Plus, I’ve found that whatever passive treatments you receive work better and more efficiently when they are provided alongside a personalized therapeutic exercise program. Talk about a win-win!
Another benefit of therapeutic exercise is that it alleviates pain and other disruptive symptoms so that you can safely start increasing your overall activity level.
“I know exercise is good for me. But I’m in too much pain to work out.” I hear this all the time from my patients with arthritis. And it’s undoubtedly a frustrating conundrum when you’re unable to tolerate general exercise because of an injury or illness, only to see your condition getting worse because you’re not staying active.
Therapeutic exercises put an end to this vicious cycle. Our exercise prescriptions will help you feel better, so you can safely and gradually start increasing your physical activity level while minimizing the risk of reinjury. Therapeutic exercises performed in supervised settings, like individual or group wellness classes, also allow you to receive real-time instructions and guidance to ensure you know what (and what not) to do and how to do it correctly.
Kim Gladfelter is owner of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness in Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.