Make sure you communicate with your rehab team, and speak up if something in the program isn’t working for you.
Here’s how to get the most out of physical therapy and cardiac rehab.
Sometimes medication or surgery isn’t enough to treat a particular ailment. Your doctor may prescribe a course of physical rehabilitation. One type of rehab is physical therapy, which involves exercise to help you regain function and mobility. It’s helpful for people who need to prepare for or recover after joint surgery or to learn to cope with balance and gait problems. Another type is cardiac rehabilitation, which involves exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, and education about medications. It’s helpful for people who’ve had a heart attack or heart surgery.
But unlike the other treatments, rehab isn’t something that’s “done” to you; you must be an active participant. “You get out of it what you put into it, and the people who are most successful are the ones who make their health and recovery a priority,” says Dr. Donna Polk, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Both types of rehab programs involve about two or three sessions a week for six to 16 weeks. The following tips can help you maximize your rehab so you can improve your health and your quality of life after rehab ends.
Move of the month: Marching in place
Marching doesn’t have to be boring. Put on music, then march as a warm-up for an exercise routine, or march for an extended period as an aerobic workout.
March in place for 30 seconds; then march four steps forward, four steps back for 30 seconds. March four steps on a right diagonal, then four steps back for 60 seconds.
March in place with feet wide apart for 30 seconds. March in place with feet together for 30 seconds. March with feet alternating wide and together for 30 seconds.
Finally, inhale and sweep arms toward the ceiling, then exhale and sweep arms down to your sides. Do six arm sweeps. Repeat the routine if you want.
Talk to staff members about what you want out of rehab, such as being able to walk without pain, climb stairs, or lose weight and become physically fit to reduce the risk of heart attack. Then set goals for yourself. “Set long-term goals, and also short-term goals as a way to monitor how you’re doing. That way, you know if what you are doing is working or not, and you can catch yourself sooner rather than later,” says Lauren Mellett, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Communicate with your team
You’ll have to be able to talk with staff members if something is not working for you. “You should feel comfortable discussing any problems, concerns, or barriers to your rehabilitation program. Let them know so that modifications can be made. It may be a simple fix,” says Mellett.
Go to all appointments
This sounds simple, but failure to show up is a common problem. “Sometimes people don’t make attendance a priority. But if you don’t go to all of your appointments, you’ll lose momentum and the ability to progress,” says Dr. Polk.
Do your homework
You’ll be expected to keep up with the rehab on the days you don’t attend a session. That means you’ll have to exercise or continue with lifestyle changes (such as sticking to a healthy diet). Remember that rehab itself is a lifestyle change. “It’s important to try to establish a routine before rehab ends, so you’ll be able to sustain it for the rest of your life,” says Mellett.
Change may not come quickly, but there’s no rush. “It is better to start easy and build up over time. Don’t overdo it. When you haven’t been exercising for a while or even at all, exercising too hard at the beginning can lead to musculoskeletal injuries like sprains, muscle tears or pulls, exacerbation of an old injury, or excessive fatigue,” says Mellett. Dr. Polk advises you to start small: “Commit to 10 minutes of exercise on your days away from rehab, or doubling your fruits and vegetables.”
Maintain the change
“People often fall off the wagon once rehab is over. But this is about picking that fork in the road to a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain for the rest of your life,” says Dr. Polk.