Being a physical therapist means being there for clients through thick and thin. You help clients conquer their physical limitations and reach fitness goals they couldn’t reach alone. You are there providing guidance when clients are at their peak and you’re also there to provide support when clients experience setbacks. Injuries are among the greatest setbacks of all.
Often acquired when pushing hard and focusing on performance, injuries can happen to anyone. During session or solo training or sometimes just during everyday activities. This might happen with a client you’re working with or you might even receive a new client who needs professional help recovering from an injury. Your expertise in Kinesiology and health put you in a unique position to help those who need to completely recover from an injury without weakness or limited motion.
The following ten strategies are ideal for any physical therapist building a recovery plan for an injured client.
Coordinate With the Doctor
The first step is absolutely necessary, get in touch with the doctor. If your client doesn’t have a doctor, reccomend them to a medical professional you know and trust. For a PT to make a good plan, you need an accurate diagnosis and a detailed assessment of the injury. You need to know which recovery exercises to do and what kind of healing schedule to expect. To make that plan safely, you’ll need a doctor’s input and cooperation.
Make sure your client has a detailed diagnosis and a doctor to consult with before you begin.
Build a Recovery Plan with Doctor & Client
The next step is to build a personalized recovery plan. No two injuries are exactly alike, and neither are the bodies sporting the injuries. This means there’s no one-size-fits-all recovery routine for your client. You can take a pre-built routine for injury-type and customize it or build your own from scratch based on your understanding of the client and conditions.
Get the doctor in the loop on your recovery plan. Before enacting a plan, get the approval of a doctor who has personally seen your client. Get the full OK before you begin. Then, as the healing and plan continue, have your client get a medical checkup to confirm that your plan is working and on-track with the healing process.
Provide Clients with Safe At-Home Recovery Exercises
Most physical therapists provide both session-only practices and give clients practices to take home. Stretches and exercises to perform at home will help clients to continue their own recovery, strength training, and other goals between sessions. Clients going through injury recovery are no exception. They will need a few safe practices that can be done at home without PT supervision.
It’s also important to remember that some clients will try at-home exercises whether you provide them or not. Giving a few safe practices may be essential to preventing an accidental reinjury.
Show Clients How to Use Bandages and Braces Properly
Braces and support bandages are often essential to the recovery process. When not in PT, clients can rely on braces to keep their recovering joints from moving or taking impact damage. When in PT or training at home, clients can use compression braces and bandages to provide a little additional support and protection. If an injury is still swelling, compression should also be used to control the inflammation.
However, clients don’t automatically know how to use bandages and braces, even if you tell them exactly what to use. Many clients will need a lesson in wrapping a compression bandage tightly enough without cutting off circulation. Many could really benefit from a walk-through in how the straps of their new brace work. Spend a little time making sure clients can use the supplies they need for recovery.
Help Maintain Cardiovascular Health
One of the biggest risks when recovering from an injury is the loss of CV health. Cardiovascular activity is essential for a full-strength recovery so that clients are not easily winded when their enforced rest period is over.
Of course, keeping active is pretty tough when injured and protecting the injury. In fact, maintaining CV health is one of the primary reasons that clients will reach out to a physical therapist after an injury, even if they were not in PT before. Use your unique knowledge of exercise variety to help clients stay active and achieve a cardio state while also protecting an injury.
Teach Clients When to Say “When”
For clients eager to recovery, they can easily push themselves too hard and risk reinjury. There’s also a risk that clients will fail to tell you when they have reached their limit during a session. Clients pushing through the discomfort may not know when to say “when” in response to pain.
So teach your clients when their injury is at risk and when they’re pushing too hard. Help them identify the line between recovery and reinjury through the sensations they feel. Talk about what that line is and how it’s better to err on the side of caution when the issue is in question.
Watch Out for Proprioception (Loss of Pain Awareness)
Along those lines, remain aware that sometimes clients don’t feel pain when they should. When multiple injuries happen in the same area, especially ligamentous injuries, clients may experience proprioception. This causes a loss of proprioceptive feedback. Without accurate feedback from the injured area, clients cannot detect when they are about to reinjure themselves. You will need to watch out for this condition and take precautions against reinjury when the client can’t feel damage.
Focus on Strength and Flexibility of Healing Tissue
After safe recovery comes full-function recovery. Clients may come to you after an injury for help healing without reduced ability. Injuries that heal at-rest heal like veal. The tissue is soft and the connections are short. This means limited strength and flexibility. To help clients recover with full ability, you’ll need to focus your sessions on strength and flexibility.
Range-of-motion is essential, as is the healing tissue’s ability to perform comparably with the rest of the body’s condition.
Retrain Muscles and Motor Patterns
With enough damage, muscles may completely lose ability and sometimes even muscle-memory. Loss of motor patterns can mean that clients will need to retrain their muscles to do the correct actions. Retraining may include everything from walking to the moves needed for a specific sport. Clients healing from a serious tear or regrowing a great deal of tissue may need to completely retrain their muscles to do things their head already understands. This is exactly why clients rely on physical therapists through thick and thin.
Train Clients to Use Crutches Safely
Last but not least, clients may need help learning the new physical tasks of recovery. Using crutches, for example, is not something everyone has the knack for. You may want to ensure that your clients have the right support equipment (ex: crutches of the correct height and padding) and that they know the best-practices for safely getting around.
Clients with other requirements can also benefit from your expertise. Wearing a brace, walking with a boot, or even safe kitchen practices are physical skills you can teach to keep clients safe and mobile during their recovery.
As a physical therapist, you are in a unique position to help clients who are recovering from an injury. Often, clients will come to you for exactly this service and may become long-term customers and referral sources when their recovery is successful.
Question or comment? Feel free to leave one in the comments section below!
*Please consult with a medical professional if you have any medical issues that may be affected by the suggested activities.