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Ready, Set, Recover!

In my nearly 30 year career as a physical therapist, I’ve seen this scenario countless times. Two people will start therapy at the same time. A few weeks later, one person will be completely recovered (in fact, they’re usually stronger and more flexible than they were before their injury) and ready to return to the activities they love. Meanwhile, the other person feels that they have made little progress in their therapy. They’re frustrated and thinking about quitting. So why do some patients recover faster than others? What factors determine how long your recovery will take?

The human body is a complicated machine, and the recovery process is influenced by millions of different factors, some of which we haven’t even discovered yet. So while experience might allow us to make an educated guess as to how well and how quickly a person might recover from a given injury or illness, it’s impossible to predict with any certainty. However, there are points to consider when gauging how long your recovery process might take:

1. Your condition – Whether it’s an injury, illness, surgery, or some other issue, it’s important to remember that some conditions simply take longer to recover from than others. For example, a patient with an ankle sprain will likely have a much shorter recovery period than a patient who’s just had a rotator cuff repair surgery.
2. The severity of your condition – Generally the worse your condition is, the longer it will take to recover from it. In the previous scenario, if the patient has a grade 3 ankle sprain (the most severe kind), he or she may experience a recovery period more similar to that of the patient with the surgically repaired rotator cuff.
3. How long you’ve had the condition – Acute (short term) conditions heal faster than chronic (long term) ones. For this reason, it’s extremely important that you seek prompt treatment for any problem that doesn’t improve within 7 days. Never assume it will “just go away on its own.”
4. Your age – The younger you are, the faster your body is likely to heal itself.
5. Your dedication to rehabilitation – Whether or not you follow the instructions of your physical therapist and/or doctor will go a long way in determining how long your recovery period will last. Rehabilitation takes work, and those who are willing to do the work will reap the benefits. Ideally you will attend all your physical therapy appointments, complete your home exercises every day, push yourself (but not too hard), ice frequently, and rest as needed. And if you experience setbacks and frustrations, share those with your physical therapist so that you can make adjustments and work through them together. Simply quitting your rehab program is never the answer.
6. Your other daily habits – The healthier your body is, the quicker it will heal, so how you care for yourself on a day to day basis makes a big difference in how fast you’ll recover. How much sleep you get each night, if you smoke, and whether you typically have fast food burgers or grilled fish and vegetables for dinner are all areas that affect your overall health, and in turn, your rehabilitation.

The good news is that rehabilitation is not a race. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain (see 3, 5, & 6 above), your body will heal at the speed that’s right for you. You may not get there as fast as someone else, but you will get there. Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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