Sometimes the best medicine for an injury or other issue is rebuilding the muscles and functions of the body. One way to do that is through exercise rehabilitation. Exercise rehab is a treatment method commonly used in sports medicine to help athletes recover from injuries, but it can also be valuable as physical therapy for those who are recovering from non-sports related injuries or trauma due to surgery. Find out more about what exercise rehab is below, including how it works, what it’s used for and if there are any side effects.
Exercise rehabilitation refers to the act of rebuilding or building functionality of the muscles or joints. Typically, exercise rehab begins in a clinical setting where a professional works with the patient, guiding them through various mobility and strength training exercises. The practitioner may also provide instructions for exercises to be done regularly at home to continue working on functionality between treatment sessions.
Exercise rehab treatments can be performed by a range of practitioners. That includes physical therapists, sports medicine professionals, occupational therapists and physicians.
The main premise of exercise rehab is that you’re building strength, endurance, flexibility, range of motion and other functionality by exercising specific parts of your body.
The premise is similar to exercising for basic health: As you move through various levels of a workout program, you build muscle and improve strength and other factors. That makes you more able to do various exercises or level up with harder skills.
But exercise rehab isn’t about improving your general physical fitness. Its aim is to help regain the level of functionality experienced in a certain area before an injury. In cases where exercise rehab is being used after a surgery to treat a chronic issue, patients may be able to recover functionality that wasn’t possible prior to the surgery.
Exercise rehab may consist of stretching, working with weights, cardio, and other activities.
Exercise rehab is a highly customizable treatment option, which means providers can devise a program that works for each individual patient. Typically, this occurs over the course of a few phases:
You are recovering from a sports injury (e.g. tennis elbow) or a repetitive stress injury (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome).
You are recovering from a traffic accident or a fall, or you have had surgery to replace a bad hip or knee.
You may not be a good candidate for exercise rehab if you’re suffering from an acute heart condition, unstable angina, or uncontrolled cardiac arrhythmia.
Exercise rehab is highly effective when the patient is committed to the practice. It’s based on well-known premises on how exercise impacts specific areas of the body and overall wellness. Whether it’s a program of sports rehab or treatment with a physical therapist, exercise rehab is extremely common because providers know it works.
The length of time someone should engage in exercise rehab depends on a variety of factors. The nature of the injury obviously impacts the length of recovery time. So does overall health and fitness, how willing a patient is to work through the exercise rehab program and remain consistent with exercises and what other treatment methods are being used.
As far as each exercise rehab session, they may take between 30 minutes and an hour on average. Sessions might include:
Home exercises can typically be done in short sessions. Throughout exercise rehab, you may be given instructions for stretches, for example, that take a few minutes. In some cases, the exercises may need to be completed a couple of times a day for the best potential outcomes.
The main side effects associated with exercise rehab include muscle soreness and muscle aches. It’s similar to the type of soreness that might be experienced after general exercise and can typically be treated with methods such as applying heat or cold therapies, taking over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, and resting appropriately.
In some cases, exercise rehab may result in pain that’s beyond what might be experienced with normal exercise. It’s important for the patient to maintain consistent and open communication with their rehab provider to ensure that any such side effects are within the normal range.
In very rare cases, exercise rehab could contribute to further injury or other issues. However, working with a licensed, experienced professional and taking care to follow all instructions for the exercise rehab substantially reduces these risks.
There isn’t a specific recovery period after exercise rehab treatment sessions. You may need to treat them as you would a serious workout, with rest afterward. Engaging in activities that reduce inflammation and soreness, such as soaking in Epsom salts, might be a good option. Patients should always discuss proper aftercare for exercise rehab with their practitioners.
You can rely on exercise rehab when the goal is to rebuild functionality, strengthen muscles or correct issues associated with an injury or condition that has been corrected via surgery or other methods. Some common examples include: