How a Physical Therapist Can Help Patients Work Out Injury-Free
This article about working out injury-free features an interview with Dr. Karena Wu of ActiveCare Physical Therapy
When beginning a physical therapy plan, patients will have a lot of questions for their medical team. Some of these are simple to answer, and will be similar for all patients, while others will need much more explanation. Since the overall goal is for patients to use these physical therapy sessions to work out injury-free and improve health instead of experiencing setbacks, following the advice and guidance of physical therapists is essential.
Work out injury-free after a consultation with your physical therapist of choice
There are many different clinics, facilities and physical therapists for patients to choose from, but when you select the one that you’d like to work with, it’s often because of how comfortable and confident they make you feel. From the moment you step into the physical therapy facility, you should get the feeling that no matter how you move forward, you and your team will be on the same page when it comes to treatment, exercise and expectations. In order to put current and prospective patients – as well as those that are simply looking to learn more about physical therapy – at ease and to answer some questions, Dr. Karena Wu of Activecare Physical Therapy sat down with one of her patients, Tawana Howard and answered some of the most common (and important) questions that people have about physical therapy. Read on to find out more!
Dr. Karena Wu on the best ways to work out injury-free:
The most important aspect of this type of treatment to remember is that physical therapy sessions aren’t meant to be a fast journey. While patients may be able to learn to do the exercises quickly, and understand the importance of following advice in order to improve their health, progress and change will take time. For a period of time when people are more inactive – whether it’s because of the cooler months with limited chances to participate in sports outdoors or due to a period of recovery or inactivity, there are some points that patients need to keep in mind.
According to Dr. Wu, it is a physical therapist’s job to evaluate the body from a holistic perspective by looking at the specific area of injury and how the rest of the body, mind and mechanics contributes to that injury. According to her, physical therapy is very important for people that haven’t been very active for various reasons. Most importantly, these sessions will help to properly turn on isolated (and often unused) muscles, recruiting and activating them in order to use them in closed kinetic chain or functional activities. By focusing on these different, isolated muscles, a therapist will help patients learn and grow as a whole.
Dr. Wu was also asked about injury risk probability while working out without a trained physical therapy professional, and said that many injuries are the result of people simply trying to do too much, too fast. Even when working out with proper form, the risk for injuries exists, because many people do not know or understand personal limits. By pushing muscle groups too hard, it may be the case that patients are recruiting and using their “antagonist muscles” more, which can do more harm than good. This results in reduced neuromuscular activation, and might cause injuries. The term neuromuscular activation relates to the brain and body communicating the same message – which is necessary for proper form and function. Doing the right exercises won’t help if you’re doing them improperly.
Along with these general injuries that may be the result of improper form, Dr. Wu also recommends against working toward your goals without taking days off. The recovery period between sessions is essential to healing and strength-building. Since repair and recovery actually occur on the off days while muscles are not being used, it’s recommended that patients take off 1-2 days in order to give their bodies a chance to heal. This rest period will ensure that patients are able to continue their sessions without delay, and can prevent overuse injuries in physical therapy patients.
Since many patients only seek out physical therapy when they experience a truly debilitating injury or illness or have a great deal of pain, not everyone considers older injuries and how they may impact their sessions and progress. Another warning from the doctor is that even though the older injury may not be impacting your life in significant ways on a daily basis, it can still change the way your body responds to new exercises. Knowing how to work out injury-free also means taking these previous injuries into account, and anticipating the ways that they may impact you in the present. This is only one of the reasons why having a good neutral position and working with a therapist to modify exercises when necessary in order to be sure that you’re using muscle groups properly is recommended. While this cannot always eliminate the chance of suffering an injury 100%, it goes a long way toward protecting patients.
When asked about the number of therapy sessions that will be required to help patients regain their mobility and strength, the answer might surprise some people. This number of sessions can be variable for patients and there is no specific number of visits that will be needed. It will depend on individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as overall fitness levels. Dr. Wu’s explanation for why this may be can be found by viewing the video below.
Switching gears, getting feedback from patients like Tawana Howard may be helpful for those considering or just beginning a physical therapy routine.
Listening to the advice of physical therapy professional will help patients work out injury-free
It is important, first of all, to understand that no two patients will have the same journey or experiences throughout their physical therapy session. There are certain expectations that physical therapy professionals and patients should have throughout this process, but you shouldn’t expect your recovery to be the same as anyone else’s.
Physical therapy appointments are focused on a few basic concepts, and Tawana touched on each of them when answering the questions about working with Dr. Wu. First, when asked how she stayed motivated throughout her sessions, Tawana’s response was that she was met with a straightforward, supportive approach to her care, and asked to visualize what “normal” meant to her in terms of life before the injury or incident (and the ideal for after). Her motivation was also guided by the reminder that in order to be able to go back to her old routine and take part in the activities that she enjoyed previously, she’d need to focus on her progress and work on following instructions to the best of her ability.
Speaking of focus, that started with an important realization that was made at the beginning of the physical therapy treatment process. Tawana knew that she was in pain – but she didn’t realize how much this pain was affecting her strength and mobility. In the video below, she describes this realization.
Over time, Tawana and Dr. Wu tracked progress using a variety of methods that are common for physical therapy practices across the nation. These tools included:
- Starting the session with a review of the activities that were completed during the previous session
- Going over the checklist of “homework” assigned between sessions
- Addressing consistency of completing these activities, as well as questions about the progress
- Providing feedback about any experienced pain or discomfort during the sessions or at home activities
Essentially for Tawana, these at home “sessions” and exercises were an extension of the in-clinic ones… and this will be the same for you. By following the guidelines established by the physical therapist, patients like Tawana were able to know exactly what was expected of them, even without direct supervision. Motivation for her came from knowing these expectations, and using tools and knowledge to take things one step further each time. Repeating these exercises at home and keeping up with them ensures that progress can and will be made, and that health, strength and mobility will improve. Email and other electronic methods were also very important in setting expectations and establishing communication, so don’t forget that this can help, too.
Again, no two patients will have the same experience with physical therapy treatments designed to help people live and work out injury-free, but it is possible for this time to pass without incident. There is likely to be some pain and discomfort as the body readjusts to activity, but this is normal. For many like Tawana, beginning physical therapy will introduce patients that are in crisis to physical therapy professionals – but her experience should be a positive look at what can happen with hard work and focus.
To view all of the videos in this series, take a look at the playlist below.
Ready to start your journey toward being able to work out injury-free and live your life the way you want to? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Wu’s team at ActiveCare Physical Therapy today! If you’re looking for a clinic more conveniently located by you, use the BetterPT clinic locator, or download the BetterPT app to your phone or tablet. These options will put you into contact with dedicated and capable therapists immediately. Another option that is especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic? Consider using the BetterTelehealth platform and scheduling a telehealth visit, which will allow you to seek out care and support from physical therapy professionals without leaving your home.
Dr. Karena Wu is the Owner and Clinical Director of ActiveCare Physical Therapy® in NYC and Mumbai with over 19 years of experience. Dr. Karena Wu has a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of California at Riverside, and a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy from the Program In Physical Therapy at Columbia University. She received her Clinical Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Temple University.