Orthopedic Rehabilitation

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What is orthopedic rehabilitation?

Orthopedic rehabilitation, or rehab, is a doctor-supervised program to help people recover from musculoskeletal injuries, diseases or surgeries. This includes conditions that affect the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons. It can restore motion, function, flexibility and strength to the body part needing rehabilitation. It can also reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life while dealing with an orthopedic issue. It can also help you prevent future problems. Another name for this type of program is musculoskeletal rehabilitation.

The components of an orthopedic rehabilitation program may include:

  • Physical therapy (PT), specifically orthopedic physical therapy, to enable you to move your body better. It uses several approaches to accomplish this, including strength training, stretching exercises, massage, heat and cold therapy, electrical stimulation, and a home exercise plan. These techniques can help you move without pain or with reduced pain.

  • Occupational therapy (OT) to improve your ability to function in daily activities, or occupations. It teaches you new ways to approach activities and how to break down tasks into manageable sections. You may also learn how to change your environment to suit your abilities. Adaptive equipment is another useful component of OT. Examples include splints, canes, reachers and orthotics.

  • Sports rehabilitation, including sports physical therapy, which focuses on exercise- and sports-related injuries and conditions.

Why is orthopedic rehabilitation performed?

Doctors may recommend orthopedic rehabilitation for a variety of reasons. These include post-surgery recovery and treatment of injuries and chronic diseases, such as arthritis. Your doctor may refer you to orthopedic rehabilitation for any of these common conditions:

Who performs orthopedic rehabilitation?

Orthopedic surgeons oversee orthopedic rehabilitation. Orthopedic surgeons treat, prevent and rehabilitate bone and joint problems. They use medical and surgical approaches to manage these types of problems. Once you are in a rehab program, you will work directly with a variety of healthcare providers. This may include a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, an exercise physiologist, and a variety of other rehab specialists.

How is orthopedic rehabilitation performed?

Orthopedic rehabilitation takes place in many settings. In the hospital, it is part of post-surgery care and helps you transition safely to being at home. Sometimes, people need to go to a rehab center for extra attention before going home. Outpatient orthopedic rehab is available in many settings. This includes hospital clinics, doctors’ offices, freestanding orthopedic clinics, and health clubs.

During orthopedic rehabilitation, a rehab therapist evaluates your condition, limitation, symptoms, pain level, and recommendations from the referring doctor. Together you’ll discuss personal goals for rehabilitation and design an individualized treatment program. Rehab specialists use objective measurements to track your progress, such as range of motion, strength and pain levels. Your therapist will share your progress with your doctor.

What are the risks and potential complications of orthopedic rehabilitation?

In general, there are few risks with orthopedic rehabilitation. The main problem would be ineffective treatment resulting in persistent problems or symptoms. You can reduce the risk of this by diligently following your treatment plan. Be sure to tell your doctor or therapist about any increase in pain or other symptoms as well. You should also discuss your rehab plan with your doctor and therapist before starting it. Ask if there are any specific risks and how to prevent them.

How do I prepare for orthopedic rehabilitation?

There are some steps you can take to improve your comfort and rehab outcome. You can prepare for orthopedic rehabilitation by:

  • Losing excess weight

  • Making sure all your healthcare providers have your complete medical history. This includes chronic conditions, allergies and medications. When listing medications, include prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamin supplements.

  • Stopping smoking as soon as possible to help the healing process

  • Taking or stopping medications as directed

Questions to ask your doctor

Before you start orthopedic rehabilitation, make sure you get answers to all your questions. Making a list can help you remember what to ask. Questions you may want to ask your doctor or therapist include:

  • Why do I need orthopedic rehabilitation?

  • What specific rehab procedures are you recommending?

  • How many treatments will I need?

  • What restrictions will I have? What kind of assistance will I need at home?

  • When can I return to work and other activities?

  • How will you manage my pain?

  • What changes, if any, to my medication plan do I need to make?

  • How should I contact you after hours if I have a problem?

What can I expect after orthopedic rehabilitation?

Knowing what to expect makes it easier to plan and prepare for a successful rehabilitation. Throughout the course of your rehab program, your therapists will evaluate your progress and recommend any needed changes. Your orthopedic surgeon will continue to oversee your program and receive updates from your therapists. This keeps all rehab team members informed about your progress. When you reach your rehab goals, your therapist can discharge you from the program. Before you leave, your therapist will teach you self-management strategies you can use at home.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 26
  1. Benefits of Physical Therapy. American Physical Therapy Association. http://www.moveforwardpt.com/Benefits/Default.aspx
  2. Musculoskeletal (Orthopedic) Rehabilitation. Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. http://spauldingrehab.org/conditions-and-treatments/musculoskeletal-rehabilitation
  3. Musculoskeletal Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/departments/orthopaedics-rheumatology/depts/musculoskeletal-physical-medicine-rehabilitation
  4. Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation. Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/physical_medicine_and_rehabilitation/musculoskeletal_rehabilitation_85,P01161
  5. Occupational Therapists. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm
  6. Occupational Therapy. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/occupational_therapy.html
  7. Orthopedic Services. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007455.htm
  8. Physical Therapy. American Board of Internal Medicine. http://www.choosingwisely.org/patient-resources/physical-therapy/
  9. Sports Medicine FAQ. American Osteopathic Academy of Sports Medicine. http://www.aoasm.org/about/sports-medicine-faq
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