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To Bounce Back Quicker After an Injury, Rehabilitation is a Must!


Why do “pro athletes” bounce back from injuries so quickly? How are they able to return to playing quicker then you and I? 

Injuries are a part of sports. The severity of injury and length of time missed from sports is usually dependent on:

  • how conditioned the athlete was prior to the injury occurring
  • the initial treatment following the injury
  • how quickly and accurately the injury was diagnosed
  • how quickly surgery (if necessary) was performed following the injury
  • how much motion and strength the athlete had going into the surgery
  • how quickly rehabilitation was started after the injury and they type of rehabilitation received
  • how much time is spent on their rehabilitation each day 
  • their motivation to return

This article is going to take a look at the importance of rehabilitation and why it is important for recovery after an injury or surgery.

So why is rehabilitation important? Alan Guaneri, licensed physical therapist and outpatient physical therapy coordinator at St. Elizabeth Health Center states “rehabilitation is very important to insure that recovery is complete and functional. It also insures that short term problems do not become lifetime troubles as the case of injured ankles or shoulders.” Alan notes that “misuse can be worse then disuse.”

Hans Kirr, licensed physical therapist and physical therapy manager at St. Joseph Health Center also notes that “after an injury, weakness, stiffness, loss of motion, loss of muscular endurance and function occur. As a result, the person begins to favor the injured body part. If rehabilitation is not performed, the person is setting themselves up for re-injury or injury to another area because of the compensation for the injured area.”

When an injury occurs, the body wants to protect the injured area or “guard it”. Pain and swelling is the way for the body to alert the person that there is a problem. Pain and swelling also limit motion of the injured area to protect it from further injury. 

So if swelling helps to protect the injured area, why is swelling bad? According to Alan, “swelling feeds into the pain/spasm cycle which limits the person’s willingness to move the injured area. It also takes up the space in the joint where the muscles, ligaments and tendons need to pass through for normal motion.” 

With swelling is pain and decreased motion. When an injured area is “guarded” or not moved, further problems occur. The muscles needed to help support the joint will be affected and may lead to recurrent injuries to the area. By decreasing the swelling, you will decrease the pain and allow the injured area to move more freely, allowing recovery.

The basis of rehabilitation, especially sports medicine, is “functional rehabilitation”. Old school rehabilitation focused on the joint affected, used weight machines and a lot of modalities such as ultrasound, warm whirlpool, etc.. Old school also tended to focus on symptoms, not the problem itself and did not look at function.

“Functional rehabilitation” focuses on the way the injury occurred and how the injury affects the body as a whole. Pain, swelling and motion is the goal early on, but it is important to take rehabilitation to the next level. People all have activities that they need to return to. Rehabilitation should look at those needs and address them with exercises that mimic those activities, work in various planes or angles and strengthen not only the injured area, but all of the areas of the body that are affected and are needed to function in every day activities.

Hans states that “functional rehabilitation has the patient moving sooner and training for their desired activity sooner. When done properly, it leads to a more complete rehabilitation and a safer return to activity.”

So when an injury occurs, think about the importance of rehabilitation by a licensed health care professional like an athletic trainer or physical therapist. Inquire about the type of rehabilitation you will be performing. Remember, all individuals have some activity that they want/need to return to, so the rehabilitation should not only address pain, swelling and strength, but prepare you to return to your activity safely.

Questions can be faxed to 330-480-2594 or emailed to

Hollie Kozak is a licensed athletic trainer and sports medicine coordinator for an area hospital. She specializes in injury assessment, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. She has her Master’s Degree from The University of Akron and Bachelor’s from Baldwin-Wallace College.

Hollie Kozak, ATC/L  - Humility of Mary Health Partners, July 2003
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