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Rapid-recovery PT: A Fast Track To Recuperation

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  • Written By: Bill Gabriel, PT, DPT

Rapid-Recovery Physical Therapy (RRPT) is the name given to the use of physical therapy to expedite post-surgical recovery. Prior to the 1980’s, a relatively inactive recovery from surgery was considered the ‘norm’ and physicians typically recommended a cautious approach to working the muscles, bones and ligaments involved in a surgical repair. “Physical therapy was used cautiously, resulting in a fairly long, drawn out time from surgery to full resumption of activities”, notes Alan H. Beyer, MD, FACS.

“However, during the 1980s, physicians began noticing an interesting phenomenon: non-compliant patients who were ignoring their post-surgical activity restrictions, were actually getting better, faster than those who followed more restrictive recovery regimens, with no negative long-term side-effects. Since that time RRPT has become the new ‘norm’, used to help patients return to full resumption of activities, safely, and in the shortest possible time.”

A case at point is surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). In the past a physician might recommend that ACL patients refrain from resuming athletic activities for as long as 12 months, depending on the patient. Nowadays, progress through the various stages of rehabilitation is based, in part, on how quickly individual patients achieve critical clinical milestones with minimal increases in inflammation. For instance, some patients can tolerate light running on a treadmill just two to three weeks after ACL repair, depending on the degree of swelling and recovery of knee extension and flexion. Physicians have observed that other patients have been able to return to sport-related activities as early as eight weeks and competition-level activity may resume as early as three to four months after surgery for select, high-level athletes.

Hand surgery is another area where early post-operative rehabilitation has proven to be of benefit. Surgeons have noted that, following surgery to reconnect the tendons of the hand, patients who undertake RRPT, develop less scar tissue, thereby, preventing possible immobilization of the hand that could sometimes develop in patients who waited longer before engaging in rehabilitation.

Rapid-recovery physical therapy also benefits total joint replacement patients. Orthopedic surgeons have similarly noted that quicker recoveries have a direct correlation with how soon patients began their rehabilitation.

If your physician has scheduled you for an orthopedic procedure, it is quite possible you may be referred on for rapid-recovery physical therapy services. Rest assured that early rehabilitation is truly a clinically proven ‘fast-track’ to recuperation following your surgery.