Movement as Medicine

It is a common belief that after an injury, minimal movement of the injured limb will help increase the rate of recovery and protect it from further damage. However, that is not always the case. Prolonged rest and immobilization of a joint can actually result in rapid atrophy of the affected muscles as well as a reduction in bone mass and joint range of motion, resulting in weaker, more restricted limbs. This can further affect an individual’s functional abilities as a result. Once the injury site has recovered, an individual may find it more difficult to participate in the activities that they were regularly completing prior to their injury, such as completing tasks around the home, playing sports, or getting dressed, as a result of the extended period of immobilization after the injury. This is where the adage “move it or lose it” rings true.

Movement as medicine is a holistic approach to recovery. Research has shown that early mobilization after an injury can decrease pain and swelling of an injured limb, while also improving functional outcomes. Early mobilization promotes healing by increasing blood flow into the injured area and aid in the removal of the damaged fibers and cells. This also will assist in reducing some inflammation and prevent further complication with scar tissues, which will allow the body to recover and rebuild the damaged tissues to as close as possible to the level prior to injury.  Understandably, exercise tends to be an afterthought following an injury, however to be able to participate in all your favorite activities again at your previous levels of function, it is best to undergo some form of exercise programming to aid recovery.

Physical therapy and kinesiology both aim to relieve pain, assist in regaining movement, and help strengthen weakened muscles following injury, and are often done in conjunction with each other. This is achieved in a variety of different ways. A client will attend a session with a kinesiologist or a physiotherapist to undergo an assessment of their current functional status and injury-related limitations. Based on the assessment, the therapist will prescribe appropriate exercises and stretches that will assist in helping promote movement of the injured joint and ensure that the muscles and bones are kept active to prevent any reduction in strength (especially in the smaller, stabilizer muscles of the joint). The exercise program will be specifically tailored to each individual and adjusted and progressed as needed as the client returns to their previous functional levels.  It is important to gradually introduce movement and exercises in a manner that is safe for the client, given their injury history and stage of recovery. Under the supervision of a trained kinesiologist, such a program will help minimize the chance of any reinjury to the joint. A client that attempts to do these exercises on their own may start with exercises or movements that are too advanced or progress themselves too quickly and could potentially worsen the injury.

            Early mobilization of an injured limb is vital for an individual’s recovery post-injury. It can assist in speeding up the rate of recovery, while also mitigating any further reduction in function. The more you move, the quicker you will be back to participating in the activities that you love.

Ajeet Kular

Kinesiologist at Meridian Kamloops