Physical therapy is typically indicated following an orthopedic surgery such as operations on the hip, knee, shoulder, wrist, hand, neck, foot, ankle, and spine to facilitate a speedy recovery. Physical therapy can start anywhere from a few hours to a few days after surgery and in some cases there may be a period of immobilization following surgery.

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A patient’s ability to regain motion and strength and ultimately return to their daily activities depend on physical therapy.  The body will not regain normal motion without specific retraining. Physical therapists are specifically trained to restore range of motion and strength without compensation and to prevent re-injury during the recovery process. The therapist can also provide the patient with specific guidelines to allow optimal healing.

After a thorough evaluation by a physical therapist, goals will be set to minimize the adverse effects of surgery such as pain and swelling as well as to restore normal movement, flexibility and function. The therapist and patient will work together to establish functional goals related to resuming normal activities of living as well as preventing an injury from recurring. The therapist will then design an exercise program tailored specific to the patient’s needs and abilities, and work.

Therapy is often divided into distinct phases. The first comes immediately after surgery when the body part may be immobilized while pain and swelling subside. Then comes a series of progressively challenging exercises to restore range of motion, stability, and strength. The final goal is to return the patient to a pre-injury activity level. Post-operative treatments may specifically include:

  • Strategies for pain reduction including modalities such as ice, heat, and electrical stimulation
  • Flexibility exercises to improve range of motion
  • Exercises to strengthen muscles
  • Posture, balance, and coordination training
  • Gait analysis and training
  • Manual therapy techniques
  • Self-care training
  • Home exercise instruction