Life After Physical Therapy, Avoiding Re-Injury

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joggerExpert advice and tips from Post-Rehab Conditioning Specialist Ashley Jacob with Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training on getting back into the game—and avoiding re-injury.

In many cases, a sports-related injury—a twisted ankle or knee, a wrenched shoulder—means a trip to the doctor’s office (if not the ER), followed by several weeks of physical therapy. “After PT, most people figure they’re good to go—so they go,” says Ashley Jacob, a Certified Personal Trainer, Medical Exercise Specialist and Post-Rehab Conditioning Specialist at Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training. That typically means going right back to the pre-injury routine at the gym or the running track, with only a vague idea of how to regain lost fitness and avoid another injury in the future.

Unfortunately, this strategy might also be sending the patient right back to the doctor (and physical therapist), Jacob says, because it’s missing two critical elements: a genuine understanding of how to further repair—and avoid repeating—the injury and the physical conditioning necessary to completely heal the damage and restore function in the injured area. But working with a qualified post-rehab personal trainer means working out (and returning to pre-injury fitness levels) with the assistance and oversight of an exercise and fitness professional.

A targeted approach

For any patient, regardless of age or athletic prowess, returning from an injury is a lengthy process, Jacob says. Even the best medical treatment and PT regimen usually leaves the patient with residual functional deficits that require targeted strength and conditioning work, she explains. “Effective rehabilitation really needs a graduated exercise program that’s specifically designed to return the injured body part to its normal and healthy function,” she says. “And that’s something that needs to continue long after the doctor’s appointments and PT sessions are over.”

Effective rehabilitation needs a graduated exercise program that’s specifically designed to return the injured body part to its normal and healthy function.

A qualified personal trainer can design a post-rehab exercise program that closely follows the physician’s or physical therapist’s advice, she explains. (No matter how closely a patient listens to the doctor or therapist, a non-medical person is bound to miss or misunderstand or simply forget something, she says.) But equally important, she says, certified post-rehab specialists are also trained to apply the doctor’s (or physical therapist’s) directives to the individual client, taking into account the many variables—age, athletic conditioning, lifestyle, etc.—that make each client unique.

“Certified post-rehab specialists are specifically trained to work with clients who have injuries or other conditions that require special consideration,” she says. For example, they can help clients to “train around” an injury, by substituting activities that won’t put undue strain on damaged tissues.

Specifically, today’s post-rehab specialists focus on a few things, Jacob says:

* Mobility—restoring flexibility and range of motion—as well as strengthening and conditioning injured muscles, while keeping a close eye on the client’s pain levels. This address the loss of muscle mass and strength that typically accompany sports-related injuries, Jacob says.

* Alignment and form. Qualified post-rehab specialists are trained to evaluate a client’s movement patterns with an eye toward proper form and alignment.

* Muscle recruitment. Post-rehab trainers also work with re-educating muscles, which can be out of balance after an injury, thus ensuring correct muscle recruitment and preventing imbalances.

* Muscle feedback. Trainers also work on what’s known as proprioception—the messages sent to the brain from the injured tissues, which is another common post-injury problem that can lead to repeat injuries—by incorporating exercises that build stability and balance.

* Motivation. Like other personal trainers, post-rehab specialists coach clients in fitness as well as lifestyle, thus helping them maintain and improve their physical fitness as well as their mental focus.

– Ashley Jacob is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, a Certified Medical Exercise Specialist and Certified Post-Rehab Conditioning Specialist with the American Academy of Health, Fitness, and Rehab Professionals, and Certified to Provide Dietary Guidance for her clients with the Cooper Institute. Armonk Physical Therapy and Sports Training provides personalized, integrative, and skilled one-on-one physical therapy services.