Whether you’re injured after playing basketball or taking a wrong step while walking down the street, taking physical therapy plays a key role in helping you recover from the injury. Rehabilitation helps you improve your joint movements and eases your pain, which can help in preventing any permanent damage.
But how does rehab and physical therapy help you, and how will you know which rehabilitation methods will be good for your case? Read all about it below as we give an in-depth discussion on sprains, grades of injury and different physical therapy techniques.
What to expect during physical rehab
When rehabilitating your injured leg, your therapist will probably give you a variety of exercises that not only relieve pain but also boost your coordination, strength and flexibility. You will probably have to use gym equipment such as bikes and treadmills, and you’ll probably be given an exercise program and stretching routines to do at home.
Other rehabilitation techniques will make use of heat or cold therapy, a whirlpool bath, electrical stimulation, ultrasound or a massage.
What happens during a ligament sprain?
Ligaments are strong fibrous bands of tissue that connect bones to each other and keep your joints stable. Ligaments can be found connecting most of the bones in the body, and their main function is to provide a passive limit to the amount of movement between your bones.
When you get a sprain, your ligaments are overstretched or torn. Ligaments that are most likely to get injured are those in your ankles, knees and wrists.
One of the most common knee ligament injuries is to a ligament called the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). In these cases, patients usually need surgery to repair the damaged ligament.
The grades of sprain injuries
The severity of a sprain is graded according to how badly the ligament has been damaged and whether or not the joint has been made unstable and no longer able to support the ligaments:
- Grade I – Structural damage only on a microscopic level, with slight local tenderness and without joint instability.
- Grade II – Partial tear (rupture) of the ligament, visible swelling and noticeable tenderness, but without joint instability (or with mild instability).
- Grade III – A severe sprain: complete rupture of the ligament with significant swelling and with instability of the joint.
Mild to moderate sprains are treated conservatively and normally heal after six weeks.
The weight-bearing factor during physical therapy
Your physical therapy program will also depend on the amount of weight you are allowed to put on your leg and how long you need to use crutches. This will all depend on the type of reconstructive surgery you received. Physical therapists need to be aware if your doctor has given you weight bearing restrictions. If restrictions are unclear, they should be clarified with your doctor.
Your physical therapist will then design a treatment program to meet your needs and gently guide you toward full weight bearing.
How can physical therapy help with ligament tears and injuries?
The basic goal of physical therapy is to repair and strengthen injured ligaments over time. There are some cases where physical therapy alone can restore full range of movement and strength. In other cases, physical therapy must be done before and after undergoing surgery.
There are therapy techniques that can be only used or done in a clinic or with supervision from a specialist. An example of this is ultrasound treatments, which stimulate tissues beneath the surface of your skin, causing the injured areas to heal by growing new cells. Electrical stimulation can decrease pain and relax the area.
In some cases, a patient may have the full potential for healing without the need for surgery following an ACL tear. A doctor or physical therapist will be the one who will determine if you will need surgery or not based on the specific tests results. If the tests determine that you no longer need to undergo surgery, your therapist will design an individualized physical therapy treatment program for you.
If you do need surgery, your physical therapist can work with you in designing a short programme before the procedure, which basically includes steps that help you decrease your swelling, increase the range of movement of your knee and strengthen your thigh muscles (quadriceps).
After the surgery, your therapist can also design an individualized treatment program based on your specific needs and goals. It may include any of the following:
Icing and compression
After your surgery, your physical therapist will help you control the swelling with cold therapy using an ice sleeve or an ice pack that fits around your knee and compresses it using a bandage.
You may be required to wear a brace to limit your knee movement (range of motion) following surgery. Your physical therapist will fit you with the brace and teach you how to use it safely. Some athletes will be fitted for braces as they recover and begin to return to their sports activities.
During your first week following surgery, your physical therapist will help you begin to regain motion in the knee area and teach you gentle exercises you can do at home. The goal is to restore your knee’s full range of motion and reduce swelling.
Your physical therapist may use electrical stimulation to help restore your thigh muscle strength and help you achieve those last few degrees of knee motion.
Aside from movement exercises, your physical therapist will help you increase your ability to put weight on your knee by using a combination of weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises. The exercises will focus on your thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings) and might be limited to a specific range of motion to protect the recovering ligaments. In the following weeks, your physical therapist may increase the intensity of your exercises and add balance exercises to your program.
Initially, the exercises will help your recovering leg to be able to gently shift weight on varied surfaces and help restore your balance. These activities will progress to standing on the operated leg while on firm and unsteady surfaces to challenge your balance.
Return to sport or activities
Recovering athletes may undergo return-to-sport treatment programs designed by their physical therapists. These programs depend on their individual needs and goals. These programs are designed to help athletes regain strength and balance. They may begin running, jumping, hopping and other exercises specific to their individual sport.
The most important thing in rehabilitating your leg is staying committed, going to every therapy appointment and sticking to your routines. In no time, your legs will heal better, faster and safer.
Got a question or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!