Post-Fracture Physiotherapy Can Make a Difference
The adult human body contains some 206 bones. These bones provide a supportive framework for the body, protect internal organs, store key minerals, and aid in the production of blood. These bones are also key to movement itself. When a bone is broken, or fractured, movement is hindered and sometimes stopped altogether. This is especially true when the fracture occurs in a bone we rely on for everyday activities such as walking or using our hands. While the first phase of healing a broken bone requires immobilization, the phases that follow require movement in order to strengthen the bone and related musculature. Physiotherapy is vital during this process to increase mobility and strength to the affected area. This article will discuss some common fractures and how post-fracture physiotherapy can help during the recovery process.
Commonly Seen Fractures
No matter where a fracture occurs, there will be a period of rest or immobilization to set the bone and allow it to heal properly. Each fracture is different, and your physician will decide what treatment option best suits you. During that time, movement will be restricted. Common side effects during immobilization include joint stiffness, loss of muscle mass, loss of strength and function, and overall weakness. Post-fracture physiotherapy addresses all those symptoms and is tailored to each individual and their specific injury.
Let’s take a look at some common fractures:
Boxer’s Fracture (5th Metacarpal):
- This is a fracture of the hand, often occurring when the fist is clenched and hits a hard surface with force.
- After receiving clearance from your physician, the goal of physiotherapy is to restore strength and function. Various exercises of the hand will be encouraged, and you will be quite stiff following any immobilization. Your physician and physical therapist will customize exercises according to your injury.
- The wrist contains 8 small bones that connect to the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). The most commonly seen wrist fracture involves one of these forearm bones and is called distal radial fracture.
- During the immobilization period it is important to perform range of motion exercises of the fingers, elbow, and shoulder to prevent stiffness and reduce swelling. It is common to experience a feeling of stiffness following immobilization, but your physician and physical therapist will customize exercises according to your injury.
- These can affect the radial bone (below the elbow), the humerus (above the elbow), or the pointy tip of the elbow (the olecranon, part of the ulna forearm bone). The immobilization period will likely include wearing a sling. Depending on your specific fracture your physician and/or physical therapist will likely introduce safe exercises to perform during and after immobilization. These are important in reducing swelling and stiffness.
Shinbone (Tibia) Fractures:
- This fracture occurs below the knee and above the ankle along the shaft of the shinbone.
- During the immobilization period a therapist will most likely help you learn to walk with crutches and avoid putting weight on the affected leg.
- Most likely your first exercises will focus on gaining flexibility and will be manually performed by a therapist.
- As you gain flexibility the exercises will focus on strengthening the extremity and could include pool or water therapy to reduce the stress of gravity or the use of a stationary bike.
- The ankle is comprised of three bones: the tibia, fibula, and the talus. Fractures of the ankle are common due to falls or twisting of the ankle.
- Many times the immobilization period is over a month’s time and can cause significant weakness or muscle wasting to the calf muscle. Physiotherapy has been shown to increase range of motion in ankle fractures and prevent any long-term disability.
Physiotherapy to the Rescue
Each patient is different, so not all fractures receive the same care plan or set of rehab exercises. In general, however, a physiotherapist will tackle 3 main issues seen from fractures:
For anyone who has ever had a broken bone, it can be scary to start using it again especially when pain is involved. For this reason, physical therapists employ a range of practices to aid in pain relief before, during, and after physical therapy sessions.
○ Heat and cold therapies
Flexibility and Mobility
After any extended immobilization period, there is some expected stiffness and loss of muscle mass. This can make it difficult to go back to using the affected limb as before, and it can even cause other injuries when improper compensation of other parts of the body occurs. Physical therapists are in tune with proper functioning of body parts, including gait. They can provide invaluable advice and exercises specific to your injury, as well as appropriate adjustments during the healing/rehabilitative stage. Your first sessions with a physical therapist will most likely include:
○ Manual therapy
○ Stretching exercises
Strength and Function
Once you have gained some range of motion back, your physical therapist will work closely to help you gain strength and improve the function of your affected limb. Some common physiotherapy can include but is not limited to:
○ Resistance exercises
○ Weight bearing exercises
○ Rehab Pilates
‘Time is the medicine that heals all wounds.’ While that saying is partially true, you’ll need more than just time to help you recover what was lost. With the help of a skilled physiotherapist from Complete Care Physio, you can keep your body as strong as possible while your bones knit themselves back together. Once your bones are healed, focused therapy will enable you to build your strength and regain function. Physiotherapy should be an essential part of your healing process.