Regardless of how an injury is managed at the beginning, the road back to normal function is referred to as rehabilitation. Most patients are surprised at how long this takes! Whilst a bone can be expected to heal in 2-5 months, and ligaments typically heal in 6-8 weeks, full return to function can take 6 months or more, even from the simplest of injuries.
Much of this delay is caused by muscle wasting and joint stiffness, and both of these occur as a direct result of the injury combined with immobilisation afterward. Whilst we can’t necessarily avoid the injury, one of our goals of treatment is to restore movement to the injured part as soon as possible, thus minimising joint stiffness and muscle wasting.
It is not always possible to move the injured part normally in the first few days or even weeks after injury, usually because of pain and swelling, as well as any splints/ limitations that are a necessary part of the treatment. Pain control is important and may include ice, elevation, oral analgesia, splints or massage.
The rehabilitation process is best supervised by a physiotherapist, and a program of exercises is typically tailored for each individual, and will differ between injury. As well as regular exercises, your plan may include but not be limited to hydrotherapy, acupuncture, remedial massage, or the use of technologies such as anti-gravity treadmills.
Not all patients complete their rehabilitation regime, and there are many reasons for this, however it is important to follow as much of your post-operative plan as possible, ideally to the end. This will not only help with strengthening the injured part back towards normal, but can also help with voiding re-injury in the future.