As I work with clients, I’m continually talking about their goals, not so much about how much they want to be able to bend. Instead, I’m asking questions like…
What do you want to get back to doing that you can’t do now?
As treatment progresses, those answers change, get revised, clients have higher expectations as they start to feel better. Those are normal changes, and I’m happy when we can set the bar higher. But, every once in a while I get a surprise…
When can I go to the water park? The first time this 74 year old woman (with rheumatoid arthritis and a recent spinal fracture from a car accident) asked me, I just laughed and didn’t answer. The next time she asked I thought “how cute, she wants to go with her grandchildren.” Then, I realized she was asking for REAL, for HERSELF. She’s never been to a water park and she wants to mark it off her bucket list. Talk about setting the bar higher…
I had to think about my answer for while… of course, she can do whatever she wants, but what about the stairs, what about the impact at the bottom of the slide, what about the heat. Every negative about a water park ran through my mind. My goal is to keep people out of pain and avoid reinjury. But where’s the fun in that if there is no risk for something better?
Movement and activity are essential for healing and recovery. Muscle strength, joint motion, and weightbearing are all integral parts of healing and returning joints to their proper movement patterns. Of course, there are times when rest is appropriate; but in general, you need to get moving to avoid weakness, stiff joints, and compensating for the injury.
The opposite side of that is overuse and inflammation. I frequently tell clients “Quit while you’re ahead.” When you are at home, feeling good for the first time in weeks, you just want to tackle the world. Then the next day you’re hurting and depressed that you aren’t getting better. When we overuse a weak muscle, or strain a joint that doesn’t have enough support, we may experience irritation. Inflammation can cause swelling, redness, joint stiffness, and of course pain.
So how do you balance movement and inflammation? To progress at home, I recommend you just add a little activity each day. Add a little more resistance, or just a few more reps to your exercise. Remember, quit while you are ahead. The right balance of activity and rest is different for each person, but we try to avoid “two steps forward, one step back.” As a trained therapist, I know when enough is enough which is why I repeatedly get asked “ When do I get to go to the water park?
I know her goal, I know the bar is set high, and I know the work it will take to get there. But, as she continues to get stronger, I’m starting to believe this might actually happen. More importantly, she sees it too, which is why she keeps asking. Ultimately it will be her choice to weight the risks of inflammation and pain vs. the thrill of the water slide. We all have those choices, hopefully we will make smart ones.
If you need help finding your balance, schedule a discovery visit in order to see how therapy or training can help you get back to YOUR bucket list item.
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We help active adults get back to exercising, feeling fit, and participating in the activities they love without medications, injections, or surgery.
Catherine Courtney, PT
Specialist Physical Therapist