REHAB IN MOTION: Sticks and stones may break your bones but physios will heal them

As I wrote about in my previous articles, there are many different ways to break a bone, many different bones in the body to break, and many different ways of making sure the bone will heal in its correct alignment.

All of these factors can affect the timing of recovery from a fracture, but the process of recovering function after a broken bone is essentially the same for any broken bone.

The decision on when to start physiotherapy is generally made by the family doctor or the orthopedic surgeon. Sometimes the doctor will require a second set of x-rays to ensure the bone is properly healed before rehabilitation can begin.  How soon rehabilitation starts after the bone is broken depends on the severity of the break, which bone was broken, and how the bone was immobilized after it was broken. Very serious fractures need longer to heal and can be immobilized for up to three months before any type of rehabilitation can be done. Some bones heal much faster than others. The small bones of the hand for example, can take much longer to heal than a broken arm or broken leg. If the bone was casted, rehabilitation cannot start until the cast is removed. If there are pins or plates holding the bone together, and the fracture is not too severe, then rehabilitation can start as soon as the surgical incisions are healed.

Once the doctor has given permission for physiotherapy to start, the first step to recovery is regaining the motion of the joints around the fracture. If the joints above or below the fracture have been immobilized for any length of time then they are quite often stiff. Physiotherapists use stretches, and in some cases, joint mobilization techniques to restore movement to the joints that have been immobilized. The process of regaining motion after a broken bone can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of years.

The second step after making sure that everything moves properly is to rebuild strength in the muscles around the fracture site. Sometimes the muscles around a fracture site become so weak, that it is not possible to move without assistance. Physiotherapists help people to start moving when they are too weak to do so their own. Once the person is able to move under their own power, a physiotherapist can provide exercises to help bring the muscles back to full strength.

The final stage of rehabilitation involves return to regular activities. This can involve retraining balance, co-ordination, speed, and the ability to take impact through the broken bone. Physiotherapists can provide exercises that mimic different sports, activities, or jobs to help people return to their normal lives as quickly as possible.

Ben Chatterson is a physiotherapist at Rehabilitation in Motion which has four Island locations including two in Campbell River – Willow Point (250) 923-3773 and Quinsam (across from Save On Foods), (250) 286-9670 – as well as Comox Valley (250) 334-9670 and Port Alberni (250) 723-9675. Ben Chatterson works at the Comox Valley Clinic. Visit

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