These days, active rehabilitation has become a staple in the injury recovery process. Learning how to move your body in a safe way to prepare you for life’s daily tasks is the natural next step after seeing other treatments like physiotherapy or massage therapy.
But what are the main injuries and health conditions that active rehab can treat, how do you even decide to consider active rehab for your body?
Whether you have a sports injury or have experienced a motor vehicle accident, moving your body with the purpose of recovery and pain relief is for you. As we learn more about the physical body through research and clinical practice, we see that functional movement and exercise is being identified to be a key component of healing.
In this blog I’ll be explaining the many benefits of active rehab and some of the conditions that it helps treat.
What is Active Rehabilitation?
Active rehabilitation is a comprehensive approach to injury rehabilitation that combines therapeutic exercises with patient education, lifestyle changes, and other interventions to promote healing and recovery. Think of active rehab as the mesh between personal training and physiotherapy.
Your kinesiologist will guide you through a treatment plan, based on a detailed assessment, where you will test a range of objective measures as well as your medical history, that will get you stronger and more active as you progress.
Unlike passive treatments like massage therapy, exercise therapy programs focus on strengthening muscles, improving flexibility, and increasing endurance. We need muscle strength and joint mobility for almost everything we do at home, work or play.
From cooking a meal for our family or going for a hike, muscle strength is required for movement. By engaging in exercises that are specifically tailored to your needs and goals, active rehab programs can help to improve muscular strength and endurance by increasing the number of repetitions and sets of the exercises.
Your kinesiologist will also be able to assess during the initial assessment any muscle imbalances that you might have and provide corrective exercises to help improve how your body moves. This might include a core stability focus and education on correct body mechanics.
Types of Conditions Treated by Active Rehabilitation
Active rehabilitation is for both chronic and acute conditions. There are so many diagnoses for injuries, and a large proportion of them can be treated by active rehab. For simplicity, we’ll break the injuries and conditions treatable by active rehab into categories, listed below.
This is injury or disorder of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. Movement, resistance training, and mental relaxation exercises all help you get better, and there is evidence to back it up.
Research has shown that loading our muscles and bones with exercise can stimulate our cells to promote tissue repair and remodeling. This is called mechanotransduction.
Some examples of musculoskeletal conditions that benefit from active rehab are:
- Whiplash associated disorder
- Postural syndrome
- Shoulder impingement
- Biceps tendinopathy
- Tennis/golfers elbow
- Hip bursitis
- Muscle strains
- Back strains/sprains
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Iliotibial pain syndrome
- Plantar fasciitis
P.S. If you would like to learn more about these conditions, check out our ‘what is musculoskeletal injury’ blog post.
Pre- or Post operation
Operations can also be a source of tissue injury as the cutting of the skin and other tissues (although intentionally) that involves a healing and recovery period. An exercise program led by a kinesiologist after your surgery is key to regain your strength, range of motion, and coordination.
Research done by Howard et al. (2018) found that patients participating in pre-hab experienced less postoperative complications.
Mental and physical rest has commonly been the mainstay for concussion treatment, however the tides have turned and more research out there is pro-movement when it comes to traumatic brain injury.
Once out of the acute phase of your concussion, progressive and gradual increase in exercise can help improve mood, sleep, and depression, reduce inflammation, as well as increase blood flow to the brain (Fowler and Kennedy, 2017). If you have concussion symptoms, ask your family doctor if exercise prescription is right for you at this time.
Research has shown that active rehabilitation can help to improve mobility and independence in individuals with neuromuscular disorders such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. These conditions can lead to a wide range of physical impairments, including muscle weakness, decreased range of motion, and difficulty with coordination and balance.
Similarly, people with spinal cord injuries can benefit from active rehabilitation programs that target specific areas of the body, such as the upper or lower limbs, to improve strength, flexibility, coordination, and most importantly, independence (Noreau and Shephard 1995).
Chronic health conditions
An overwhelming body of evidence suggests that physical activity (and kinesiology) can alter body weight (up or down), combat health conditions and diseases such type 2 diabetes and cancer, improve mood and energy levels, promote quality sleep and generally improve social interactions and wellbeing.
- Blood pressure disorders
- Cardiovascular disease
- Sleeping disorders
Physical activity has been shown to improve physical function in people with chronic pain, including conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and low back discomfort. Seeing a kinesiologist, who can create a personalized exercise program using the concept of progressive overload, can help people with chronic pain gradually increase their activity level in a safe and durable way.
Kinesiologists also provide pool therapy which provides extra buoyancy and less pressure on joints, while still adding resistance to movement. Reducing pain through movement helps you restore mobility and improve your quality of life.
Summary of Active Rehabilitation
As a form of treatment Active Rehab uses exercise to help people recover from a wide range of health conditions. Active rehab is used to help improve strength, mobility, and flexibility, as well as to reduce pain and improve overall physical functioning. The aim of active rehab is to help you move, feel, and live better and get back to the activities you love.
Balthazard, P., de Goumoëns, P., Rivier, G., Dériaz, O., & Vuistiner, P. (2009). Evidence-based approach to the management of acute musculoskeletal pain. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(4), 247-251. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2008.052710
Fowler, M., & Kennedy, E. (2017). Post-concussion treatment guidelines. Fowler Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.fowlerkennedy.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Post-Concussion-Treatment-Guidelines.pdf
Howard, R., Yin, Y. S., McCandless, L., Wang, S., Englesbe, M., & Machado-Aranda, D. (2019). Taking control of your surgery: Impact of a prehabilitation program on major abdominal surgery. Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 228(1), 72-80. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2018.09.018
Noreau, L., Shephard, R.J. Spinal Cord Injury, Exercise and Quality of Life. Sports Med. 20, 226–250 (1995). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199520040-00003