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Rehabbing an injury? Here’s How to Return to Adventure.

If you’re trying to bounce back from an acute or chronic injury or are dealing with persistent pain, one of the most frustrating things is not being able to do the activities you love the most. Whether that’s a recreational game like golf or tennis, outdoor pursuits such as hiking and biking, or playing basketball, football, or other sports, every day spent on the sidelines seems like a wasted opportunity. In this article, we’ll explore how our new Return to Adventure program can get you back to living a full and active life. 

Identifying Shortfalls in Acute Injury Recovery

When you get an injury like a sprained ankle or strained hamstring or a recurring issue like low back pain or elbow tendonitis flares up, you might have a go-to doctor or physiotherapist. Or maybe if it’s serious enough to require surgery, you rely on the best orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist in the area. But as talented and caring as such professionals might be, they can only treat you for as many visits as your insurance will cover. This means that they have to prioritize what they can do for you in a very limited amount of time, whether it’s a one-off or several shorter visits. In which case, the top two targets are probably getting you out of pain (or at least getting it down to a manageable level) and restoring enough function for you to sit, stand, and walk. 

These are necessary steps in the rehab continuum, but while they take care of your acute needs, they can often leave you short of where you need to be to get back to your favorite sports and activities. A study out of the UK stated that “A significant proportion of people do not fully recover 12 months after injury, including those with less severe injuries.” And it isn’t just the body that struggles to bounce back after getting hurt. The authors went on to state that injury can also have a significant impact on your mental state. “Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are common post-injury,” they wrote.

On the physical side, an injury can not only leave you with damage to muscles and other tissues, but also reduce your proprioception (the sense of where your body is in three-dimensional space), disrupt your balance, hamper your mobility and stability, and create asymmetry between sides of your body and opposing muscle groups. Typical physical therapy could start addressing some of these if your PT can get you out of pain and back to everyday function quickly, but some of the aftereffects are likely to go unaddressed. A clinician also might not know what your previous capabilities were before you got hurt, making it difficult for them to get you back to the level you’re used to being at. 

From a psychological perspective, you may still be traumatized from the incident that caused the injury, fear of getting hurt again, and have lost confidence in your physical abilities. The layoff from your sport or activity has probably gotten you down, and you could be apprehensive that you’ll never be able to do the things you love most again. Then there’s the impact of losing a physical outlet, which can make it harder to deal with stress when one of your coping methods – exercise – has been taken away. Traditional rehab often fails to help with any of these issues due to the limitations in time and scope placed on clinicians by insurance company reimbursement.

Bridging the Gap to a Full, Active Life

Here at the Performance Ranch one of our biggest goals is not only building your strength, power, and endurance at our facility and helping you meet your lifestyle and body composition goals but doing so in a way that prepares you to live an active lifestyle beyond the gym walls. In working with a talented team of coaches and collaborating with excellent physical therapists, athletic trainers, chiropractors, and other clinicians over the years, I realized that there was a pressing need in our community to get people all the way back to peak physical and mental condition after injury. So many clients have told me about their dreams to return to playing a round of pain-free golf or getting back on their mountain bike, only to state their fear that they never would because of this or that injury. 

That’s why my fellow coaches and I decided to start the “Return to Adventure Program” at the Performance Ranch. We believe that no matter what injury you sustained or how far it feels from what you used to be capable of, you can come all the way back. We surveyed several top-rated therapists to determine where the holes are in a typical return-to-play process and then created a thorough, step-by-step approach to close those gaps between where you might be today and where you want to get to in the coming weeks and months. The result is a program that can help you regain your strength, balance, coordination, and stamina on the physical side, and also your confidence, sense of self-efficacy, and love for your sport or activity. 

Just as with every new client assessment, we begin by finding out what your current issue is, how your injury and medical history play into it, and if there are any related underlying issues. We’ll also discover where you are in your rehab timeline and establish where you’re trying to get to. This identifies the delta between your current capacity and what you’ll need to reach your goals. We can then start to work synergistically with your rehab specialist to ensure good outcomes. 

The customized plan that we’ll create for your own Return to Adventure begins with restoring basic function and movement capacity that can be applied to all sports and activities. There is some crossover here to what we offer in the month-long on-ramp process that we take every new client through. We’ll use the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) to identify any movement deficiencies and see how capable you are of getting into fundamental patterns. We might also use an aerobic fitness test to assess your current level of cardiovascular output, which allows us to set the parameters for future training sessions. 

Combining Functional Movement with Sport-Specific Capabilities

Then we start to address any issues or dysfunction that showed up in the FMS. For example, if you suffered a shoulder injury, perhaps you need help with getting your arms overhead in a stable way, or if you hurt your ankle, you probably need more mobility so that you can squat effectively again. Another common shortcoming we see is a golfer struggling with low back pain. In an effort to protect that area, they lose the ability to rotate from the pelvis, so we start there. A weak posterior chain is another prevalent problem, which we remedy by teaching you how to hip hinge correctly. Once you can perform these patterns with just your body, then we can add a bit of weight and speed to make sure you’ll be able to perform the movement under load in your activity. 

Once we’ve increased your overall fitness and functional capacity, then we can turn our attention to the specific demands of the sport or pursuit you’re eager to return to. This includes assessing the major movements you’d make while you were hiking, biking, swimming, and so on, identifying which errors might have gotten you hurt or into pain in the first place, and then replacing faulty patterns with new ones. 

Sometimes such fixes come from your rehab professional’s diagnosis. For example, one of the reasons that your knee is hurting could be that you’re collapsing your foot inward when you run. Often clients blame the single movement when they felt a stabbing pain in their leg or a tweak in their back, but the issue was actually the culmination of years of improper movement. In which case, we’ll work backward to help you rebuild a safe, sustainable movement pattern from scratch, which will improve your function and reduce the risk of reinjury. 

Similarly, overuse injuries like tennis elbow are often the result of not being strong enough to handle the demands of your sport. So we will increase your strength. Some athletes are worried that getting in the gym regularly will make them too bulky or immobile, when in fact, the opposite is true. If you will commit to a couple of short sessions a week, you should be able to return to your favorite activity and then keep doing it just as well, if not better, than you were before, with the added bonus of being more durable. Strength needs to become a pillar of your approach from now on if you want to see the changes you seek. We can also help you get more from whatever “homework” exercises your PT or chiropractor might have given you, and help you get back to feeling confident and capable. 

The combination of developing functional patterns that can be applied in the gym, in everyday life, and in any sport and dialing in activity-specific capabilities makes the Return to Adventure program a must-have if you’re trying to fully recover from injury. We believe that you’re just a few steps away from regaining full function and becoming strong and resilient enough to get back to doing all the fun activities that enrich your life. We’d be honored to take that journey with you. 

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