Prehab: Why it Works

Prehabilitation, or prehab, provides a proactive solution to help you get better faster. Here are a few examples of how we can view prehab it in practice.

Lynn Batalden, physical therapist, physical therapy, dekalb, IL
Lynn Batalden, PT, DPT, OCS

People often don’t realize how much their bodies have changed and compensated to accommodate a slowly worsening condition. The slight limp that you have with acute pain changes over time to a shortened stride when walking with less movement both at the hip and the ankle to help protect your knee. Stooped posture may develop during a time of pain that then does not change back to upright. Your friends or neighbors may notice these changes but you may be totally unaware until you are suddenly surprised by them when you see yourself in a video or a photo. Many people are also surprised by their lack of balance when navigating an unforeseen obstacle on the ground or an uneven surface.

Prehab builds strength, reducing recovery time.

A physical therapist evaluates balance, strength, flexibility, and overall movement during everyday functions to design an exercise program for you. Exercises you may see in an article or video may need to be radically altered to be suited to your phase of recovery. Seeing a physical therapist even for a few visits will make sure that the exercises that you do maximize efficiency of your body. If you encounter roadblocks with any exercise, our expertise allows us to suggest alternatives.

Prehab can address imbalances arising before or after surgery.

Here’s another scenario I’ve seen in practice: a patient with two bad knees or two bad hips gets surgery to repair one side. In the course of rehabilitating that surgical side the whole body starts to move differently, almost in reverse of the original problem. For example, if you have significant joint damage in your knee, you may start minimizing how much your hip moves to shorten your stride. After you’ve made this adjustment to help your knee, eventually your back becomes stiffer and your butt muscles become weaker. Because surgery has now improved that knee joint, you begin taking larger strides. However, your back and hip are so out of practice they start to be in pain. In physical therapy we are often working through a wave of change in the body and the consequences that change brings. It’s our job to help interpret all those signals and help get everything moving in the right direction.

Being proactive about prehab can save you time, money and lead to better outcomes.

In the case of two bad hips or knees, restoring control of movement to the body becomes even more complicated. There is often gripping in the calf muscles and/or feet making them very tight. The inner thigh muscles can get very tight as they grip to help stabilize the body. This is especially true with weak core muscles which often accompany any chronic condition.  Even with a physical therapist’s extensive training, finding just the right place to start can be a challenge. My advice: if you encounter trouble on your own, get help. The most proactive people are the healthiest and in my experience, such patients are able to minimize complications that lead to more pain and more expense.

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