"If you want to improve, move!".
Physiotherapy is so very important in the treatment of RSD/CRPS.
Early activity for recovery of function of the affected limb is
absolutely necessary for improvement. The patient who takes part
in his own recovery plan along with the therapist is destined
for success. The therapist helps the patient overcome obstacles,
restore function and attain personal goals. The emphasis is on
positive outcomes for effective pain management.
What is a physiotherapist?
A physiotherapist, also known as a physical
therapist, has a detailed understanding of how the body works.
University educated and trained, he assesses and improves function,
movement and pain relief. He listens, asks question, explains
treatment techniques, goals and results. He encourages the patient
to increase his independence. He helps the patient who may be
feeling apprehensive about therapy.
What are the general goals of therapy?
Whatever treatment is used, the physical therapist's aims are
- relieve pain
- loosen stiff joints
- restore muscle tone
- improve circulation
- prevent further injury or damage
- improve range of motion.
What treatments are used?
After assessing the physical problem, the patient's age and situation,
he creates a treatment program. He may use any of the following
- balloons and weights
- exercises for circulation and muscles
- thermotherapy (heat treatment)
- cryotherapy (cold treatment)*
- hydrotherapy (whirlpool baths or exercises in a pool
- stationary bicycle
- joint exercises
- cardiorespiratory exercises
- electro-therapeutic devices e.g. TENS or ultrasound
*Note: This treatment is not used for RSD/CRPS.
DIFFERENCES IN CHRONIC
PAIN (CP) PATIENTS
The first priority of therapy is to reduce or control the
Without adequate pain control, the patient will not be
cooperative in physical therapy.
It is possible that some CP patients may not have a reduction
in pain. In this case, the goals change to reducing disability
and increasing function.
Therapists treating CP patients should be aware of the following:
- Patients with pain tend to move more slowly, have less force
during muscle testing, and display poor endurance during exercise.
- Persons with chronic pain may be severely impaired and physically
"deconditioned". Deconditioned persons function at
a level close to their maximum capacity. They have less energy
available which is used up getting through the day. There is
little reserve energy.
- Many CP patients have levels of activity dependent upon the
amount of pain they are in. When they have overdone it, the
pain increases and therapy stops.
The overactivity-rest cycle is staying with an activity until
increasing pain prevents further participation. The person then
rests completely until the pain subsides or frustration with inactivity
motivates him to be active again. The person then again continues
until increasing pain prevents further activity.
Generally, CP patients are not physically fit and do not tolerate
physical activity well. Deconditioned patients have less cardiorespiratory
endurance and tire easily during aerobic exercise. Their heart
rates are higher at rest.
PROBLEMS WITH INACTIVTY
"The main problem with inactivity is that skeletal
muscles atrophy. Immobilization and bed rest result in
a loss of Type 1 muscle fibers. Loss of muscle strength and endurance
with inactivity is due to loss of muscle mass, decreased ability
to use energy, decreased neuromuscular tramsission and decreased
efficency in muscle fiber recruitment."
"Inactivity also deprives bones, joint cartilage, and
connective tissue of the mechanical stress necessary to maintain
tensile and compressive strength and elasticity."
"Evidence is building that motor control and proprioceptive
efficiency are altered, balance is compromised, and reaction times
are slower in persons who are unfit or have pain."
What are the factors in rehabilitation?
For chronic pain patients, the following rehabilitation strategies
must be included:
- setting goals for activities
- pacing of the activity
With general exercise regimens, problems associated with deconditioning
are reversible. For example, aerobic training improves aerobic
fitness (maximal oxygen consumption). Of utmost importance in
an exercise routine are:
- a regular regimen
- a gradual increase in duration
- a gradual increase in intensity.
Each patient has certain fears that may hinder progress:
- the effects of pain over time
- severity of pain
- how long the pain may last
- physical effects
HOW CAN I DO MY PART?
Two key factors will help the patient show progress and be successful:
- self pacing
- getting realistic and attainable goals
Daily activities should be structured. Gradual and controlled
increase in activity is the best way to avoid a flare up in pain.
Timing activities is also essential and rest periods should be
included. Another activity that does not cause pain can be substituted.
Deciding on realistic goals will contribute towards success.
Making the goals unattainable or too difficult can lead to a sense
of failure and the patient may discontinue therapy.
If the patient attempts something he fears doing, achieves it
and recognizes he did it, then self-confidence improves.
Setting goals in the following three areas will help facilitate
- physical: e.g. number of exercises performed, the duration
and level of difficulty
- functional: e.g. task of everyday living such as housework
- social: e.g. visiting friends, going for a walk or other pleasurable
How do I manage a relapse?
A chronic pain patient will encounter an exacerbation of pain
at some time during treatment. It is essential that the situation
causing the pain, be identified. The therapist can then offer
strategies to cope with the pain e.g. visit doctor, use pain medication,
rest and relax. Having an action plan for this event is critical
because it helps the patient keep a sense of control. It is important
that this situation not be taken as a failure or mismanagement
of the pain.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
The rehabilitation process can be long and complicated for a chronic
pain patient. It involves overcoming not only physical but psychological
problems. The patient and therapist need to work together as a
team to set goals, recognize achievements and above all manage
a relapse. With the help of an excellent, understanding, well-trained
therapist, success can happen.
Adapted from: Physical Therapy
for Chronic Pain Vol.6 No.3 Nov. 1999 by Vicki R. Harding, MCSP,Maureen
J. Simmonds, PhD MCSP, Paul J. Watson, MSc MCSP, UK
ADVICE FROM AN RSD/CRPS
As a longtime RSD patient, I have used many forms
of physiotherapy. The following tips have served me well and I
hope they help you:
Educate. Find a physiotherapist
who is genuinely interested in helping you and educate her
about RSD. A therapist who is not familiar with RSD will not
be useful and her program may be too difficult. When you find
the right one, encourage any questions about RSD and be specific
about how RSD affects you.
Remember the four G's:
Goals: Set the goals within
your reach even if they are small steps at first. Each step
is an accomplishment.
Gentle: All therapy should
be gentle and not cause pain. Omit exercises that cause pain
and try re-introducing them later on.
Gradual: All progress should
be very gradual e.g. riding a stationary bike for five minutes
a day for several weeks then increase to six minutes etc.
Gab: Provide your therapist
with continuous feedback during and after therapy about what
is painful and what isn't. Sometimes the exercise that caused
you pain a few weeks ago, can be done today with less intensity
or duration. She will be able to adjust your routine.
Be flexible. What works for one
RSD patient, may not work for another so flexibility is essential.
Your routine may need to be adjusted continuously to find the
right combination that works for you.
Sometimes today's routine can incorporate
the same exercise done differently. e.g. instead of using
the stability ball, use the floor mat.
Sometimes the therapy you did yesterday may
be too painful today. Leave it out.
Sometimes you can do the same thing with less
intensity or duration
A good therapist can modify or re-design the program
to suit your needs.
Journal: Keep track of exactly
what you do; record the intensity and duration of each exercise.
Exercises that cause pain can be pinpointed at a glance. Progress
can be seen instantly.Celebrate even the small victories.
Progress:.While the road may seem
long, recognize that over time you will improve. Do not expect
linear progress e.g. you will take two steps forward and one step
back. This will happen frequently in the beginning and can be
frustrating but if you persist, the steps backward become less
frequent and eventually disappear. Then you will only take forward
steps! Since every RSD patient is different, it is difficult to
say when improvement occurs but your therapist will notice long
before you do. Think of therapy as an ongoing maintenance project
and as part of your wellness program.
Relapse: Be prepared; recognize
that a relapse will happen. Some days you will not be able to
tolerate much due to pain. If you can pinpoint what exactly caused
the relapse by looking in your journal, it may just mean an adjustment
in your routine e.g. less intensity, duration or elimination of
that particular exercise. Be sure to tell your therapist. Sometimes,
just rest and increasing painkillers will help. It is critical
that you do not give up at this point. Wait it out and realize
that you can resume activities once the pain level is tolerable
Why do it? Since the latest RSD
research has now found lack of oxygen in the skeletal muscle,
it is more essential than ever that we exercise. Inactivity is
the enemy of RSD since it causes the "sleeping nerves"
to wake up and cause more pain. Inactivity also causes muscle
atrophy, can result in joint problems and loss of function of
the limb. "Use it or lose it" does apply.
To find a physiotherapist near you, contact:
Canadian Physiotherapy Association National Office
2345 Yonge Street Suite 410
Toronto, Ontario M4P 2E5
Tel: 416 932 1888
Toll Free: 1 800 387 8679
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