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Would You Like To Hurt Now or Later?

I’m not a mean guy. I don’t want to cause pain to anyone in the world. In fact, that’s why I became a physical therapist – to help people overcome pain so they can live their lives to the fullest. But in an ironic way, I sometimes have to encourage pain as a means to achieving this pain-free end. It’s an unfortunate truth about physical therapy and about the body’s healing process in general. Getting well can hurt, and sometimes this scares people away from the recovery treatments they need.

After injuries (and especially after surgeries on knees, hips, backs, and shoulders), the body part in question MUST regain movement. This is usually not fun. The injured area has tried to protect itself with swelling and scar tissue. It will be weaker and less flexible than it was before. It will probably seem like it doesn’t want to move. But you MUST move it. Your scar tissue must be gently broken down. Your strength and flexibility must be gradually built back up. This can be a painful process, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never regain full use of your injured area.

This is one of the primary reasons you can’t “just do exercises at home.” The process of regaining movement can be a delicate one. You must do the proper exercises and stretches, and you must push yourself, but not too hard. An experienced physical therapist will know where that fine line is. He or she will use your feedback about your pain levels, along with information gleaned from monitoring your range of motion abilities, to decide whether to advance your program, back it up, or go in a different direction. But simply doing nothing – just waiting for it to get better on its own – is not an option.

And this brings me back to the title of my post. If I am doing my job as a physical therapist properly, I must ask you to do some things that may cause you some pain now, but you will love me later when you’re golfing with your healthy knees or picking up your grandkids with your pain-free shoulder. If I don’t, you may avoid a little hurt now, but you will suffer for the rest of your life with the pain and inconvenience of semi-functioning limb. That’s not why I became a physical therapist.

Hopefully this blog post will never apply to you. Hopefully you’ll never find yourself on the receiving end of an injury or surgery. But if you do, don’t let the pain of your body’s healing process scare you off the road to recovery. Ask yourself: Do I want to hurt now or later? Keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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