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Exercise and Rehabilitation: Similar but Different

Exercise and Rehabilitation: Similar but Different
Kevin Cleary

Obviously, everyone can benefit from daily exercise as a key to overall health, but rehabbing after an injury or illness requires specially trained therapists to guide us through what we need. Working together with our doctor and therapists allows us to work efficiently and in a safe manner toward set goals to get us back on our feet. Many injuries such as sports injuries, car accidents, or slips/falls may require a physical therapist to first evaluate your injury and then develop a treatment plan that gets your joints working properly again while increasing strength, flexibility, and balance/coordination to avoid aggravating your existing injury or experiencing a new one. Many exercises your therapist will show you can be done in your home as well as at a rehab facility.


What are the stages of Rehab?

Once your doctor has cleared you to begin a rehab program you need to know where to start. Usually after an evaluation by a physical/occupational therapist (prescribed by your doctor), a tailored program for your specific injury or illness will be designed. Whether you start your rehab at an inpatient rehab facility or at home (still under the supervision of a physical therapist) it is widely recognized that any rehab program follows three stages. According to sportsinjuryclinic.net these three stages are:

  1. Early-Stage: This involves gentle exercise to allow the affected area to heal. This stage should never be rushed since it can lead to re-injury. Baby steps!!
  2. Mid-Stage: By progressively loading muscles, tendons/ligaments, or bones helps build tensile strength to produce healed, stronger tissue to handle the pounding of everyday life.
  3. Late Stage: Finally the last stage of rehab. The injured area is stressed using functional exercises or drills to ensure that your body is fully recovered to get you back in the game.

The key to a successful rehab program is adherence and the understanding that it will not be done overnight. Let’s face it; pushing yourself too far can lead to a relapse or re-injury of your original injury or even a new injury to a different area. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” holds no credence during rehab since pain is your body’s way of saying there is something wrong. Many rehab exercises can incorporate games and activities that may not even seem like a workout. Since adherence to a rehab or exercise program is directly related to its success, making it fun will go a long way to succeeding.

Specific Tools for Specific Therapy

Okay, your injury has healed sufficiently and now you need to start your rehab program so what’s next? As you will find out, your physical therapist will have a tailored exercise program just for you and your specific needs. There’s an old adage that says “the right tool for the right job” and that is never more important than when trying to develop an efficient exercise or rehab program. In order to strengthen your core muscles, your therapist may use exercise balls to help strengthen the large muscles in our body to help with balance and stability. Another way stability can be enhanced during exercise (leg exercise machine) or rehab is with balance tools. By increasing our balance we can minimize the risk of falling and injury.  Exercises that target specific muscle groups may be employed and can be even done at home. Resistance training/rehab can use elastic bands/tubing to progressively strengthen weakened areas due to injury, illness, or even surgery. Once you have progressed far enough, your therapist may introduce weights in order to further strengthen any targeted rehab area. Even everyday exercise can benefit from weight training. Many times part of your rehab exercise program may include aquatic rehab. Time in the pool can help strengthen weakened areas without stressing our lower limbs and joints due to the benefits of buoyancy in water.


The causes for physical or occupational therapy can be varied, but in order to give yourself the greatest chance for success you need to be 100% sure that your doctor and therapist are on the same page. This will help you heal faster and help you regain your quality of life. Be diligent!! You should be honest and communicate any problem or pain to your therapist or doctor. As a rule of thumb, make sure you do not try to cut corners or speed through your therapy since this can have contradictory results.



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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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