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What are Physio Exercises and How Do They Relieve Pain?

Physio Exercises

I was waiting for my turn at the hairdressers the other day, when I became aware of a conversation in a nearby chair. The client was telling her hairdresser how much she disliked her physio exercises…they were too complicated, too hard to remember, took too long to do, etc. And not at all like her massage stretches, which were really easy. It struck a chord with me, because we occasionally hear very similar accounts from clients in St John’s; about our competitors, of course! I’m sure at another physio clinic, they may hear similar accounts about our exercises. I have to accept that there’s ‘a thing’ about physio exercise that some people don’t like.

As I waited for my turn, my mind wandered. I thought…don’t people understand that, of all the groups that advocate for or use exercise as therapy, physiotherapy is the one best aligned by education to provide exercises when muscles are damaged and it hurts to move? How ‘easy’ exercise often misses the mark, as far as addressing the muscle dysfunction which causes pain? How important it is to correct alignment before strengthening, lest you increase dysfunction? etc…my mind was in a spin!

Then I decided to look at this issue from a client’s perspective. Buried deep in our DNA is the notion that we can ‘walk off’ or ‘work through’ muscle and joint damage and pain conditions; and it used to be pretty true. That is, before the advent of convenient transportation and the digital age. For some reason, the conveniences of cars and computers which were intended to free up time, had the opposite effect. In combination with social pressures, people rarely have any spare time, today; and the time they do have? They can think of better things than difficult, time-consuming physio exercise. I can see it from our clients’ perspective.

Which makes me think of a phrase I hear my sister say to her daughter… Suck it up, Buttercup! Who knows where that comes from, but it suits.

Here’s three truths:

  • The site of an injury often doesn’t align with the cause of injury. As an example, a stiff hip could shift whole body motion to the point where shoulder muscles become inflamed and painful. No amount of shoulder exercise is going to correct the stiff hip. If the shoulder pain subsides, it has more to do with time than therapy, and…it will return!
  • The mind-muscle connection is real. Nerves  transport information from muscles to the brain; and from the brain to muscles. And it is changeable: the nerves actually adapt to the environment, even poor ones. In this way, the brain can be ‘tricked’ into accepting crooked as straight. We see this everyday in people around us, with the rounded backs and forward head posture of those who spend too much time playing with their devices. They think they’re standing up straight! Aside from creating a stooped society, there may be no immediate pain or short term consequences. Over time, however, this stooped posture causes early degenerative changes, cardiac, digestive and pulmonary challenges, etc.
  • There’s nothing more effective for most muscle and joint pain than allowing proper healing and correcting the cause of pain. In our clinic, we use photobiomodulation, better known as low intensity laser to stimulate/ accelerate and generally ensure proper healing. The most common block to normal healing is poor alignment, either at the site of injury or involving other body parts. Our physiotherapists will look beyond the immediate site of injury to seek the true causes of muscle & joint pain and dysfunctions. Complex pain conditions that involve systems beyond muscle require more complex treatment plans. 

To my mind, the real disconnect with respect to physio exercises, has to do with communication. I’m pretty sure that the lady I heard unloading to the hairdresser, or our own clients who admit to difficulties with physio exercise, didn’t really hear (or believe) their assessment findings. For if the consequences of assessment findings were clearly understood, not many would compromise present recovery and jeopardize future health, to choose to blow off a few physio exercises. So…the physiotherapist wasn’t clear enough or the client wasn’t actively listening. 

Which brings up another truth … Success requires that assessment findings be remedied; your body, your remedy. It’s really worthwhile to make the effort to find a physiotherapist with whom you can effectively communicate. When muscles are involved in injury, the test of recovery is the lasting restoration of normal motion, which makes exercise a key part of a remedy. The exercise you need is the exercise which addresses assessment findings.  For all recurrent, chronic and first time injuries in a poorly aligned body, exercise starts with retraining the brain to restore default movement. How difficult the remedy depends upon the severity of the findings. For first-time, low-grade injury, the remedy can be as simple as ‘walk it off’, but that’s rare. More often, it’s a multi-layered process; as obvious faults are restored, others become visible. It’s the understanding here that’s most important; and the reason for a physiotherapist with whom you can communicate. True recovery can be an extended affair, three to six months or longer. Following an early period of intense physio, during which the rapport between client and physiotherapist is established; and early, ‘retrain the brain’ exercises understood and well-done, a treatment plan can be stretched out, with only occasional review. The duration?…as long as it takes! The prise? Best possible health and pain-free mobility…your future!

So, to the lady at the hairdressers…take my sister’s advice! Look beyond the easy and consider your long game…. make the time to take care of You!




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