The path to recovery is not a straight line.
When we have an injury or are recovering from a situation that involves long term chronic pain, it is important to know what to expect as you recover. Things to consider are how long it might take, what you need to do to help this process move as quickly, or go as smoothly as possible.
The one thing I always do as part of my treatment is to help the client accept that the path to recovery, in my experience, is never a straight line. I have seen hundreds of thousands of clients with many different diagnoses and the one common denominator is that each person’s path to recovery follows a path with ups and downs. People often expect a path that looks very much like this:
For a whole host of reasons the actual path to recovery looks actually much closer to this:
Most people will experience hiccups along their journey and there will be setbacks. Life is life and sometimes we find ourselves caught in unexpected circumstances. Sometimes we may get carried away and do too much too quickly or too early. The motivation to succeed and improve is, after all, part of human nature. We might even get a bit scared or cautious and tighten up, which can increase our pain as well. There are many reasons why this could happen but I always warn my clients that there is a strong possibility they will go through it in some capacity. It happens to the majority of people managing severe pain and there is really nothing to panic about when it does happen. It is a normal part of the healing process. I even teach any young physio that I have the pleasure to mentor that these ups and downs are a typical part of everyone’s journey towards healing and normal pain-free function.
I always teach my clients:
1) Ups and Downs in recovery are completely normal
2) Have a plan
3) It hardly ever (actually, I would say never) means that you have slipped back to square one.
People often fear this is the case, though I can safely say I could count the number of clients I’ve treated on one had who have had this outcome.
Plan for the setbacks.
If you are in the exercise phase of recovery and you have a setback, don’t stop them. Take them back a step. If you had progressed to using a weight in your exercises, go back to not using the weight for a couple of days. Don’t stop your exercises – just ease off on them. Sportspeople might take a couple of steps back on the intensity or amount of training they participate in for a couple of days. This is the same thing for most of the sportspeople and even the less active clients that I treat. It is good to invest in and explore a variety of recovery strategies. You might use more ice or heat for relief. Perhaps you use creams, anti-inflammatories or a light pain killer for a day. Relapse happens – just take a step back and start up again, you won’t have slipped all the way back.
SOME BACKWARDS STEPS ARE NORMAL IN EVERYBODY’S RECOVERY. Don’t panic. It certainly doesn’t mean that the rehabilitation process isn’t working, it just means that we might have gone a bit too hard too early. Take confidence in this fact and keep building.
Most tendon injuries and arthritic conditions will flare up at some stage, it happens and there are always strategies to work through it.
This article was written to support your journey back to full health and function.
Written by Ian Harris (Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist)