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To rest or rehabilitate

Following a bout of illness or injury, the natural inclination would be to rest. Pain, loss of energy, restricted movements will all play their part in making you want to stay between the covers, however whether you rest or rehabilitate will depend on a lot of factors. And the final decision will lie with your doctor and/or physiotherapist.

In case you are unaware, more doctors are getting their patients up and walking very early after surgery or injury. For example, if you have had a hip or knee replacement, you would most likely be up the day following surgery. The reason for this is that early mobilisation helps the joint remain flexible and prevents muscles from becoming weak. The same applies to someone who has suffered a fracture of the femur, let us say. Early weight bearing can decrease loss of range of motion, muscle strength, functional impairment and greatly reduce hospitalisation time and cost.

Years ago when someone had cardiac surgery, he was allowed to rest for weeks before attempting functional tasks. When he finally did, he would be so de-conditioned he could barely stand. Nowadays, someone who has had cardiac surgery is up and walking with the physiotherapist the day following surgery. The goal is to restore and maintain the patient's strength through supervised exercise and functional activities. Early cardiac rehabilitation can improve oxygen uptake, control blood pressure and speed recovery. Also, when exercise is begun early, it is much easier to continue as you become stronger.

Arthritis is another disabling condition that seems to beg rest from everyday activities such as walking. However, exercising with arthritis has been found to not only reduce symptoms, but give you a more positive outlook on life and keep the symptoms at bay. Gentle movements as are done in Yoga, Pilates or tai chi can increase flexibility, maintain muscle strength and improve function.

Not all conditions call for immediate exercise. Some sports injuries and other forms of trauma may require rest for extended periods before exercise can begin. If you have sustained a torn ligament or tendon, you may have to rest for a while before rehabilitation can begin. The length of time will depend on the type and severity of the injury and, of course, on your physiotherapist and doctor. However, in this age of modern medicine, all indications point to early rehabilitation rather than rest for most conditions.


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