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What is Orthopedic Rehabilitation?

By L. Hepfer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Orthopedic rehabilitation is a form of physical therapy that treats a large variety of conditions that affect the skeletal system and the muscular system. Physical therapy is administered through one-on-one care between the therapist and patient, to better fit the patient's specific needs. Physical therapists are trained to treat the entire body, and the length of physical therapy needed depends greatly on the severity of the patient's injuries.

Injuries such as neck and back pain, or shoulder tendinitis, can be treated with orthopedic rehabilitation, along with carpal tunnel syndrome, knee and ankle sprains and hip pains. Orthopedic rehabilitation is often needed post surgery to aid in the healing process for patients who have had a spinal fusion, total hip or knee replacement, and ankle reconstructions. Other conditions that may require surgery in conjunction with orthopedic rehabilitation are complete shoulder replacements, laminectomies, rotator cuff repairs, and meniscectomies.

A physical therapist will evaluate the patient during the first initial office visit to determine the patient's range of motion, his posture, and how much he or she can function when moving. The therapist will discuss the levels of pain the patient may be experiencing, along with how much strength is present around the injured area. After the evaluation, the therapist will develop a personal treatment plan based on the patient's specific needs, and the patient will then go through orthopedic rehabilitation.

On average, therapy sessions generally last 30-60 minutes. These sessions may include stretching, manual therapy and exercises, as well as educating the patient on his condition. Having one-on-one sessions with a therapist helps the patient to gain better knowledge of his injury, and to develop a greater relationship with his therapist. The therapy sessions run smoothly when a therapist only has to focus on one person at a time, giving the patient the ability to focus more on himself, resulting in a quicker healing time. The patient is usually taught techniques to use at home to self-manage his symptoms through the therapy process as well.

Orthopedic rehabilitation may or may not be painful. This will depend on the injury that is being treated. Sometimes orthopedic rehabilitation can begin as a painful process, but as the patient becomes stronger, the pain lessens, or disappears altogether. Once it is determined that therapy is no longer needed, it is the physical therapist's responsibility to make sure the patient is properly educated on the injury, and is sent home with self-management care information. The patient is then able to continue taking care of himself at home to avoid any setbacks, or becoming injured again.

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Discussion Comments
By Azuza — On May 06, 2012

Wow, physical therapy sessions sound kind of long! I can't even work out normally for 60 minutes myself, so I can't imagine someone who is injured doing 60 minutes of exercises.

I suppose part of the session involved the therapist talking to the patient about how they're feeling and giving them instruction. But still, it sounds awfully long!

By starrynight — On May 06, 2012

@sunnySkys - I'm laughing picturing two patients competing over their therapy exercises, but I think it could happen. Especially if the two patients were sports players!

Anyway, a few of the commenters have already touched on this, but I want to say it again. Definitely do your exercises at home when your therapist tells you to!

I had an injury a few years ago I was seeing a chiropractor for, and the at home exercises helped so, so much! I didn't do them at first, but when I started doing the exercises, I could feel a really big difference.

By sunnySkys — On May 05, 2012

One of my friends is in school to be a physical therapist. From what she told me, most physical therapists only work with one patient at once, because it would be very difficult to help two people with orthopedic rehabilitation at once.

Physical therapy is so individualized. It depends on what the person has injured, how badly they were injured, and how quickly they are healing. Plus, some people need more help with the exercises than others do. Also, some people are competitive. I could imagine two people who were doing therapy together starting to compete over who could do more exercises. I don't see that ending well!

By John57 — On May 05, 2012

Has anyone had good success with orthopedic rehabilitation for carpal tunnel syndrome?

I have this in both of my wrists and am probably going to end up having surgery. Up to this point, I have tried to avoid this by doing some orthopedic rehabilitation.

This has worked to a point, but it looks like I will still need surgery. I may also have to find another line of work.

The main cause of my carpal tunnel is from typing. I would hate to go through surgery and physical therapy, only to have it return again once I went back to work full time.

By LisaLou — On May 04, 2012

My son is a self-employed carpenter and injured his hand one day while working. Since working with his hands is his livelihood, it was crucial he complete therapy.

His insurance didn't cover a lot of his physical therapy charges, so it was even more important for him to do the proper exercises at home.

He was able to visit the physical therapist once every other week as long as he followed the program as instructed.

He didn't really need any special equipment to get his hand back in shape. He just needed to know the best type of exercises to do in order to have a quick and full recovery.

This was still a slow process as he couldn't work for many weeks. This was a big motivation for him to recover quickly. Since he couldn't work, he didn't have any excuse not to work on his hand therapy.

By andee — On May 04, 2012

I think one of the most important keys to successful orthopedic rehabilitation is following their instructions and working on exercises at home.

After I had a knee replacement, I was faithful at doing the exercises my therapist told me to work on at home.

These weren't always easy to do because a lot of times they were painful. My therapist could immediately tell if I had been doing the exercises as instructed.

She said my recovery would be must faster and better if I did what she said. I saw other patients who did not work on this nearly as diligently as I did, and they didn't seem to recover nearly as quickly.

I knew one guy who didn't do anything at home after leaving his orthopedic rehabilitation visit. He never totally got rid of the pain, and went through another replacement a few years down the road.

By julies — On May 03, 2012

My husband had a herniated disc in his back and went through several weeks of orthopedic rehabilitation with a physical therapist.

The only positive thing was this was only a herniated disc and it had not ruptured. He was in a lot of pain the way it was, and I can't imagine how much more painful it would have been had the disc ruptured.

We were very thankful he didn't have to undergo any surgery. One of our friends told us the odds of back surgery are not always that great. Many times, only one-third of the patients have good results.

In addition to going to the therapist a couple times a week, there were also exercises he needed to work on at home. Now he is much more careful how he moves and how he picks something up.

By shell4life — On May 03, 2012

@OeKc05 - I imagine he would have had to start out slow! Wow, I don’t think I could stand to exercise at all after such an injury.

I have never had surgery or an injury so bad that it required rehab, but I would be really afraid to do it. I am accident prone and have a high sensitivity to pain, and I would be terrified that I would injure myself all over again.

I know that therapy makes a difference in recovery time and degree of healing, but I just wonder if I would be able to tolerate the pain and go through with it. A person would have to be brave to do this.

By OeKc05 — On May 02, 2012

My dad fell on his elbow and broke his rotater cuff. He said he could actually hear his shoulder pop when it happened, and he was in intense pain even while on the pain meds the doctor had prescribed.

He had surgery to repair it, and he had to do 12 weeks of orthopedic rehabilitation afterward. The therapist started out with movements that hardly even seemed like exercise, but that was all he could handle.

Near the end of his therapy, he was using a resistance band and doing longer sessions of more challenging workouts. He is now fully recovered, and I know the therapy helped.

By lighth0se33 — On May 01, 2012

I injured my knee in a car wreck, and the ER doctor thought I might need to have surgery on it. He made me an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, but that date was a month away, so I started doing my own orthopedic rehabilitation at home.

My mother had experienced a knee injury and had gone through actual physical therapy for it before, so she helped me out by telling me what exercises I should do and at what point it was safe to do them. I had to wait a week before attempting any of them, because the pain was too intense.

After a couple of weeks of doing the rehab at home, my knee felt so much better that I decided to cancel my appointment. I knew I didn’t need surgery, thanks to the homegrown physical therapy I had received.

By ysmina — On May 01, 2012

I went to a physical therapy clinic for two weeks after I was diagnosed with a lumbar herniated disc.

I wasn't in too much pain because I was being given muscle relaxers and pain relievers during the same time. I actually couldn't do too many exercises during rehabilitation. My injury was just fresh and I couldn't bend my legs forward or anything like that.

But I did learn exercises that I would do at home once I felt better. I've been doing these exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and it has helped a lot. I wouldn't have known about them if it weren't for the physical therapist.

I also learned how to avoid common moves that would worsen my hernia. I learned how to use my knees properly when picking something up from the floor or when lifting something. It has definitely made a difference.

By candyquilt — On May 01, 2012

@alisha-- Yes, it does depend on your situation. Doctors usually say several months. My dad's was a month and a half. But he was not pain-free after rehabilitation. Most people are not for quite a long time. I think it was like six months before my dad could walk without pain but he had both of his knees replaced.

So the rehabilitation period depends on the kind of surgery too. People who have just one knee replaced or half a knee replaced usually get back on their feet faster and might need a shorter rehabilitation program too.

Just don't rush it and be patient. The rehabilitation is really good actually. It made a huge difference for my dad. Knee replacement is a serious surgery and you will need all the support and information you can get. Physical therapy and rehabilitation is the perfect time to learn how to live with this change.

By discographer — On Apr 30, 2012

Hi, I'm due for knee replacement surgery next month and would like to know more about orthopedic rehabilitation and recovery after surgery.

My doctor said that I will go to the orthopedic rehabilitation center for about a month or longer depending on how I'm doing. How long does orthopedic rehabilitation post knee replacement generally take? And will I be pain-free afterward?

I'm sure it's different for different people but I have no idea what to expect as of right now and I'm very apprehensive.

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