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  • Mark Austin

A Lot of Injuries Just Need Time.

A patient was in last week for their fourth visit; they were still bothered by their low back pain that came on after a weightlifting injury. Their pain had improved from the initial injury, and they were doing more and more with respect to their physical activity - back in the gym, cross country skiing, and getting all of their work done at home, but their back still felt pretty sore. Rather than panicking, second-guessing our treatment plan, and changing directions in an effort to try to make the patient happy, we took our time and did an objective, detailed physical re-assessment (when you book 60-minute, one-on-one appointments there is always time to review the fine details). What was the conclusion? The original diagnosis, a lumbar disc injury, still fit.

It was just more than a mild irritation that had occurred. Beyond really mild cases, structural injuries to the disc that happen as a result of trauma (in this case, overdoing it with heavy squats), take time. It was great that they were doing more but very normal for this patient to still be in pain. Letting them know that their pain was normal for where they were at, and there were no signs of anything sinister going on beyond that, was enough to put them at ease. In this case, had we panicked, expected unrealistic results, and changed course, their recovery would have probably taken even longer. No one likes to be in pain, but sometimes it's just a part of life. Running from that pain, rather than letting your body process it and heal, can often prolong your recovery. This might mean switching from physiotherapy to chiropractic to osteopathy to athletic therapy, and back again. It might mean seeking out medications or supplements. It might mean changing your treatment or exercise plan too often.


Not every case of pain or injury is going to magically resolve itself in a couple of days or visits. As the world continues to get more fast-paced than ever before, and as we are expected to do more and more with our time, we sometimes lose patience when it comes to getting better.


Rather than overanalyzing and getting anxious over whether we are doing the right thing or not, which often just makes things worse, give yourself some time and space to allow your body to heal. Our physical bodies haven't evolved with technology-- they need time, movement, nutrition, relief from life stress, and subsequent rest.


If it's a structural injury to a disc, ligament, muscle, tendon, or bone, it's not going to feel better overnight. Chasing the quick-fix gimmicks out there will only hold you back. Manual therapy and passive treatments might temporarily relieve your pain, but you don't need to panic when the pain starts to come back. Few problems get better in 1-2 sessions, and when they do, there is usually some more underlying long-term work that needs to be done to keep that pain from coming back.


Some other signs that things are getting better, besides going by just your pain:


- Improved range of motion


- Improved swelling


- Improved strength


- Improved sleep


- Improved overall function


Sometimes, these things need to get better first before we start to notice improvements in our pain, and since pain is often a subjective experience that can be impacted by a million different factors besides the injury itself, they are often more reliable markers of how we are doing.


Keep your expectations in check. In my physiotherapy appointments, I always try to explain healing and recovery times to my patients upon their first visit so that they don't develop unrealistic hopes of being back to normal within a very short period of time. That said, physiotherapy, and healing from pain or injury, whether it be back pain, a disc injury, a rotator cuff tear, strengthening your joints to reduce the effects of osteoarthritis, is a process. Sometimes we need to review our progress and adjust our expectations as we go. This is because physical therapy is a human science-- there are never absolutes!


Think of all the trees out there with the hardest woods - maple, oak, and walnut -- these trees often take the longest amount of time to grow, but they are the most resilient to stress and the impact of nature. Your body is much the same - taking time to heal and recover rather than trying to rush the process is going to get you much more long-term results, and a much lower risk of re-injury. If you are in Calgary, Alberta looking to get started on your own journey to healing and recovering from pain and injury, and back to doing what you love with ease and freedom, contact me or book in here, and we will get you on track. Online physiotherapy is also available to anyone in Alberta-- you'd be surprised with the results we get without the hands-on piece!

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