Understanding the Injury Treatment, Rehabilitation and Prevention Continuum, Pt. 2

Posted October 11, 2011 by

In part 1 of this series, we discussed the proper steps to take for treating an injury, including the R.I.C.E. method, seeing a surgeon and seeing a chiropractor. Rather than looking at each aspect of the continuum as an alternative to the others, it is critical to understand that each has a specific role to play, and the best option is to utilize the services of each of them, when the situation calls for it, in a systematic way.

Moving on in our discussion of the injury treatment continuum, today we are going to look at the final three pieces to the puzzle—the physical therapist, certified fitness trainer and massage therapist—and what role each plays in injury rehabilitation and prevention. While injury treatment refers to “fixing” the issue—in other words, the immediate attention given to stop injuries from getting any worse and setting you on the course to recovery, rehabilitation is the process of actively helping you to recover from the treatment and returning the body to it’s state prior to the injury. Finally, prevention refers to the act of making further improvements beyond recovery to avoid similar issues in the future.

Step 4: See a Physical Therapist

This step also really isn’t a choice. If you have surgery, depending on the kind of surgery you have, your doctor will often prescribe you physical therapy to rehabilitate your body. Many folks ignore their doctor and never attend therapy sessions—BIG mistake. Therapy will mean the difference between a quality recovery and a very sub-par recovery. However, again, therapy is a subsequent STEP in the injury treatment continuum, NOT a replacement for medical treatment.

If you don’t have surgery and visit a chiropractor instead, they may also refer you to a physical therapist depending on the issue, although chiropractors often employ methods of treatment that are very similar to physical therapy, so a separate referral may not be necessary. Once you’ve completed your therapy sessions, you should move to step 5.

Step 5: Employ a Certified Fitness Trainer for Post-Rehab and Corrective Exercise

When therapy is finished, you are NOT done with your condition! The injury you sustained may have been successfully treated, but you are STILL at risk for a future issue. The ONLY way to prevent further issues is to fix muscular and postural imbalances, build structural strength, regain dynamic joint mobility and learn to activate the right muscles and use the right form during the right everyday movements through movement-specific practice (aka, exercise).

This is where a qualified trainer comes in. They can help you regain the strength in not only your affected limbs, but across your entire body so you avoid future issues. They will help you learn more efficient movement patterns to prevent repetitive stress injuries, increase core strength to prevent lower back pain, etc. The more strong and limber your body is, the less prone to injury you will be. It’s really that simple.

As with all areas of this continuum, you need to make sure you do your homework when you look for the right trainer for you. Make sure your trainer understands the injury treatment and prevention continuum, because chances are when you’re active, you will sustain injuries in the future, and if they don’t know who to refer you to, it can exacerbate the issues.

Step 6: See a Massage Therapist

Massage is a very effective way to prevent muscle knots—a natural byproduct of fitness training—so personal training and massage therapy go hand in hand and should be performed in tandem on a regular basis. As you work out, your muscles create microtears which are repaired during your rest days, causing the muscle to grow back stronger and more efficient. This is good, but the truth is that without addressing these microtears for what they are—microtrauma—they eventually will grow to become adhesions, which will cause muscle knots. Muscle knots, if left untreated, will cause you to make compensations during exercise and everyday life movements, setting you up for future injury.

By working out your knots on a regular basis, a massage therapist is an incredibly effective “first-wave” of injury prevention. That being said, massage therapists come in all shapes, skill sets and sizes. The truth is, there are a lot of very sub-par masseuses out there who have no training in sports-related therapeutic massage. Instead, they focus on the “feel-good” techniques like Swedish massage, or simply don’t approach therapeutic massage in a safe and effective manner. A bad massage therapist can leave you in more pain than when you began. Make sure you search around for a quality massage therapist who is trained in athletic, therapeutic techniques and will give you the proper body work needed to avoid future issues.

There you have it: the 6 steps of the injury treatment continuum. Going to see the right person, at the right time, will mean less frustration and time lost, while also providing a better opportunity for full recovery and more confidence in understanding the way that each of the pieces works in concert with the others.