You’re walking down the street, playing a sport or working around the house and out of nowhere a pain shoots through your ankle, knee, back, neck, or shoulder. The first thing that goes through your mind is “let me just shake it off”, but that doesn’t help. It’s still there…but “it’s not bad enough to go to the emergency room” you think. All sorts of thoughts run through your head, like, “What can I do?” “How can I make this go away?’’ “Am I dying?” The most likely answers to these questions are respectively, many things, its depends, and no.
“So, what do you do now?”
First thing to figure out is “Do I need to go to the emergency room?” Most of the time, in the absence of a fall, car accident or a severe cut with copious amounts of blood loss, the Emergency room is going to send you on your way after a LONG wait.
So what do you do when you suffer an injury?
First things first, RICE…
Rest: Its really RELATIVE rest. A good rule of thumb is – don’t do anything that reproduces the pain for up to 2 days. After that, you need to get moving.
Ice: We use ice to counteract the HEAT coming out of your body from the inflammation (inflammation is your body’s immediate healing response). Use the Ice for 15 min every hour for the first 2 days.
Compression: compression will not allow as much swelling and give the feeling of support for the first few days, which will allow you to move within that pain-free motion.
Elevation: Gravity encourages swelling to settle in the lowest point. Elevation, especially for ankles and hands, allows the swelling to settle in places with larger blood vessels, which speeds the elimination of the swelling.
Next, get some Professional Help…there are really 2 main options at this point:
See your Doctor: Your Doctor will assess the need for x-rays, MRI, CT scans and/or medications. He or she will then refer you to a specialist, a physical therapist or say rest some more. This will begin your journey back to health.
See your Physical Therapist: In most states, NY included, you can see a physical therapist without a prescription. And in most cases, “the early bird gets the worm”, your physical therapist of choice will assess your injury, discuss the problems and how to fix it and implement a plan immediately.
During your assessment, your therapists will check for “red flags’ that suggest a more serious injury that may require an x-ray, MRI, or other medical work up, and may even suggest a medical provider or providers that are best suited for your injury.
Starting with a therapist sooner has been shown to:
Relieve your pain quicker via joint mobility techniques, modalities for pain relief, and movements to counteract your pain.
Improve the formation of scar tissue. There are techniques that will teach your scar to form in ways that will function best in the future.
Loosening and/or strengthening the area to allow return to sport, work or activity.
Improve your performance when you return to your activity by treating the motion deficits, muscle weaknesses, balance dysfunction and stability issues that allowed the injury in the first place.
Research has shown that earlier initiation of physical therapy has decreased the re-injury rate substantially.
How can a therapist do this?
A physical therapist assesses not only the injury, but the reasons behind the injury/pain. Then, the PT develops a COMPREHENSIVE treatment plan that takes into account YOUR goals, YOUR activities, and YOUR responsibilities to best return you to YOUR life with as little risk of re-injury as possible.
A Physical Therapist using techniques including:
Pain relieving modalities
Patient educations including home exercise programs, activity modification, pain relief techniques, and self-care procedures
Your Therapist will, also, communicate with your Doctor when needed to assure that all aspects of your care are taken into account.
What If I do Nothing?
Research tells us that if an injury remains untreated, it will take longer to heal, have lingering aches and pains, and a higher incidence of re-occurrence due to continued weakness, stiffness or abnormal movement patterns from the pain. The sooner you take care of your symptoms the better your outcome.
Doing nothing with complete bedrest may eventually allow the pain to go away, but the return to activity will be filled with the peril of re-injury and return to pain that eventually leads to arthritis, worsening injury or other injuries that may require more invasive interventions.
So…..Get PT first
If you choose to see a Physical Therapist first, you will feel better faster, return to your activity sooner and even save money.
Physical Therapists are well equipped and trained to assess your injury, and put a plan of care together to combat your pain/injury to help you return to your regularly scheduled life. Physical therapists are, also, trained and proficient in the limits of physical therapy that require a referral to another medical professional (as many research studies state). Most PT’s are more than willing to assist you to find the best place or person for your care to allow you to Be Physical, Move Forward, and Live Well.
The Take-Home Message:
If you develop pain, have an injury, or feel like you are unable to do what you normally do, there are steps that you can take to eliminate your problems.
No matter which direction you choose to take in your recovery, please DO NOT DO NOTHING. Take an active role in your care to return to your life’s activities fully and as soon as possible.