Strength and conditioning and physical therapy go hand-in-hand in the rehabilitation process, but they are often seen as separate or opposing entities. Physical therapy helps individuals to recover from injuries, surgeries, impairments with the use of manual therapy (massage, myofascial release, joint traction etc.), electrotherapy (used for pain relief and passive muscle activation), and the implementation of an exercise program (depending on the severity of the injury/impairment). Most patients enjoy the benefits of the manual therapy and hands-on treatment from the therapist and feel better after relaxing with ice and electric stimulation. However, building the strength required to return to daily activities and beyond comes from performing resistance exercises with periodical progression.
Injuries, surgeries, and diseases leave us weakened and/or physiologically imbalanced. The initial focus following a diagnosis is to alleviate the impairment, enhance tissue repair, and improvement of range of motion. When appropriate, basic therapy exercises can be progressed by adding resistance to increase overall strength and correct imbalances. Both physical therapy for injured or orthopedically limited population and strength training for healthy individuals use the same principle of progressive overload to achieve the common goal of strength improvement.
Outside of the physical therapy office, individuals should continue to follow a resistance training program to continue the recovery process and make improvement even beyond where they were pre-injury. Although it is important to isolate a single muscle or muscle group during the recovery process, total body and bilateral exercises should be performed to prevent further imbalances and to improve overall fitness. Building strength in the muscles surrounding a joint can lead to less pain in joints during certain activities. Strengthening opposing areas of the body and learning better techniques/ movement patterns can lead to better habits that will aid in future injury prevention.
By David McCalla, CSCS