People can bounce back from injury

We like to think it will never happen to us. We fancy ourselves as being good drivers, careful when climbing a ladder, alert when using power tools, possessing the good sense not to pet unfamiliar dogs, and generally steady on our feet. And yet, accidents happen. Lots of them. According to a study published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 28.4 million emergency room visits for unintentional injuries occurred in 2008 in the United States.

Jodi Harris, PT, WCC, CWS, is a physical therapist, wound care specialist, and director of rehabilitation services at Southwest Memorial Hospital. She and her team treat patients who have fallen victim to all sorts of mishaps. Harris, with more than 30 years of experience in health care, has seen pretty much every type of accident-related injury you can imagine.

“We live in such an active area,” Harris said. “Around here, we work hard and play hard. At the hospital, we see people who get injured hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking and even gardening. Then there are the farm and ranch accidents that occur pretty routinely, and lots of people get hurt four-wheeling and in car accidents.”

When the unexpected happens, patients naturally want to recover from their injuries as quickly as possible so that they can return to work and get back to enjoying their recreational activities. Rehabilitation care — physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and wound care — can help move the healing process along. Depending on the type of injury a patient sustains, doctors may order one or more of these treatment modalities to speed recovery.

“Physical therapy has a lot to do with helping patients regain their range of motion, as well as with their strength and balance,” Harris said. “PT is used for a wide variety of problems, from ankle sprains to multiple fractures to spinal cord injuries.”

Occupational therapy is intended to help patients regain function so they can return to work or to their daily activities.

“If you break your right arm and you’re right-handed and live alone, OT can help you develop strategies to do basic things like bathe and cook until you heal,” Harris said.

There is a preventive focus with both PT and OT.

“We want patients to heal, and not fall into bad habits while doing so that might result in a re-injury,” Harris said.

Speech therapy is often recommended by doctors for patients who have experienced head injuries, and it’s also helpful for individuals who have suffered trauma to the jaw or neck.

Wound care comes into play when a patient experiences significant trauma to the skin, or has a wound that does not show signs of healing within two weeks.

“We’ll treat road rash on someone who has been in a motorcycle or bicycle crash,” Harris said. “Another common injury is getting punctured by a stick or limb while doing something active such as four-wheeling or doing heavy yard work. A dirty puncture wound can be a problem.”

After an acute trauma is treated by a physician — skin stitched up, bones put back into place, internal organs repaired — the path to a successful recovery is, in large part, up to the patient.

“We like for patients to take an active role in their own healing,” Harris said.

Once a physical therapy regimen is established, for example, Harris instructs patients how to do their exercises and therapy at home, returning to the hospital for fine-tuning and to have their progress monitored.

“When patients participate in their own recovery, they feel like they have ownership in getting better. And it reduces the cost involved,” Harris said.

Patients who understand why their doctors recommend certain therapies as part of recovering from injury tend to stick with their treatment plans, engage more actively in their own healing, and do better long term, according to Harris.

“Some of what you’re told to do might not make sense, so ask your therapist as many times as you need to until you really understand why you’re doing specific exercises and what sort of results you should be experiencing along the way,” Harris said.

Healing from an injury is often emotionally, as well as physically, challenging. Lying around waiting to feel better can be boring or even depressing, especially if you’re used to being active. Harris recommends looking for alternative activities to engage in while healing.

“If a patient is the type who goes a little nuts without exercise, we can work with them to come up with a plan B. Maybe you can’t downhill ski for a while, but if you can get out and walk, that will help with your overall sense of well-being,” Harris said.

When you’re injured, try to make lemonade with the lemons you’ve been handed. Use your recovery period only to take part in whatever therapy is recommended to help you heal, and use the time to delve into things you’ve been wanting to do, but for which you haven’t had time such as reading a best seller, connecting with friends, learning a new computer program, or finishing a craft project. Keeping yourself engaged will help make the time go by until you’re able to get out on the biking or hiking trail, work around your place, or head back to work.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.