Physical therapy is a common way for people to regain mobility, flexibility, and strength after an injury or surgery. Many patients have questions about what to expect during and after their physical therapy sessions. One of the most popular topics regarding physical therapy is soreness.
Soreness can be defined as pain, ache, or discomfort that accompanies certain activities. In some cases, this sensation may arise after physical therapy sessions, making people wonder if it is normal or not. Understanding the reasons behind post-physical therapy soreness and how to deal with it is crucial for successful therapy outcomes.
In this article, we will discuss whether it is normal to experience soreness after physical therapy. We will also provide you with valuable information on why it happens and what treatment options are available if you do experience soreness. Whether you are currently undergoing physical therapy, planning to start soon, or just curious about its effects on your body, keep reading and discover the truth!
The Importance of Physical Therapy
Improving Mobility and Functionality
If you have recently undergone physical therapy, it is normal to experience some level of soreness as your body adapts to the new exercises and movements. However, the long-term benefits of physical therapy far outweigh any temporary discomfort.
One of the primary goals of physical therapy is to improve mobility and functionality. This can be especially important if you are recovering from an injury or surgery that has limited your ability to move and perform daily tasks.
Through targeted exercises and therapies, physical therapists work to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, and improve range of motion. They may also utilize tools such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and heat therapy to help reduce pain and inflammation in affected areas.
“Physical therapy improves movement, relieves pain, and strengthens muscles and bones, which helps your body function more effectively.” -WebMD
Reducing Pain and Discomfort
As mentioned earlier, there may be some soreness or discomfort during the early stages of physical therapy. However, the ultimate goal is to reduce pain and discomfort over time.
Physical therapy can be an effective alternative to medication or invasive procedures for managing chronic pain related to conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Through exercise, stretching, and other strategies, physical therapy can help address underlying issues and alleviate symptoms.
In addition to traditional methods such as massage and ultrasound, many physical therapists use a variety of cutting-edge techniques to help manage pain. These may include dry needling, cupping, or Kinesio taping.
“The aim of physical therapy for pain management is not only limited to masking the pain but also addressing the root cause of the problem, thereby eliminating the pain entirely.” -PainDoctor.com
Preventing Future Injuries
Beyond just addressing current injuries or sources of pain, physical therapy can help prevent future issues by improving overall strength and flexibility. This is particularly important for athletes or individuals who engage in physical activity on a regular basis.
A skilled physical therapist can work with you to identify areas of weakness or imbalance that may be putting you at risk for injury. By focusing on strengthening those areas through targeted exercises and stretches, you can reduce your chances of experiencing further problems down the line.
“A physical therapist helps patients regain strength and movement after after an illness, surgery or injury but their true goal is prevention—preventing re-injury and preventing other types of injuries from occurring in the first place.” -Colleen Rapp, MedStar Health
Improving Overall Quality of Life
Perhaps most importantly, physical therapy can have a profound impact on overall quality of life. Whether you are managing chronic pain, recovering from an injury, or simply looking to improve your physical abilities, working with a qualified physical therapist can help you reach your goals.
In addition to the physical benefits, many people who undergo physical therapy report improved mood, increased energy levels, and greater confidence in their ability to participate in everyday activities without fear of injury or discomfort.
“Maintaining physical function and mobility as we age is vital to ensure good health, well-being and longevity. Physical therapists play an essential role in not only treating impairments but also promoting healthy movement across all populations to maximize quality of life.” -American Physical Therapy Association
If you are experiencing soreness after physical therapy, know that this is normal and will often dissipate as your body adapts to the new routines. Talk to your physical therapist if you have any concerns, and focus on the long-term benefits that come from committing to a physical therapy regimen.
What Causes Soreness After Physical Therapy?
Soreness after physical therapy is nothing new, and it’s typically considered to be a normal part of the healing process. It is common to experience some level of soreness or discomfort after undergoing any kind of physical activity or exertion.
There are times when the soreness can be more intense or prolonged than expected, which may cause concern for patients. Understanding what causes this soreness can help individuals know what to expect during their recovery process and potentially minimize discomfort.
Overexertion of Muscles
One of the most common reasons why an individual could feel sore after physical therapy is due to overexertion of muscles. Overuse of particular muscles or muscle groups can lead them to become strained, leading to pain and soreness in these areas.
Injury or trauma from everyday activities like lifting, carrying grocery bags or sitting with incorrect posture could also generate tension in muscles that are targeted in rehabilitation during physical therapy treatment. Occasionally, therapists design care programs that initiate stress on the muscles beyond typical movements and stresses required by basic daily life, which is useful in preventing future injuries and accidents but often leads to temporary soreness post-therapy sessions.
A lack of regular exercise or conditioning before starting physical therapy can also increase the probability for muscle aches because you are working those targeted muscles more rigorously than previously accustomed to.
Localized Inflammation and Swelling
Another possible reason behind soreness following physical therapy includes localized inflammation and swelling around treated joints, causing mild to moderate discomforts. This type of soreness usually subsides within 24 hours after a session as treatments to reduce inflammation and swelling decrease—reducing compression on the nerves and providing increased blood flow circulation necessary for healing.
Often, this type of soreness is also prevalent immediately following manual physical therapy like massage or manipulation by the therapist. The trained practitioner should prepare you about possible discomforts from such treatments for pre-warning patients before participating in an activity that could actually enhance their discomfort short-term but generate positive results long term,
To alleviate post-PT inflammation and swelling, some individuals find ice or heat application—depending on whether cold/heat works better for them—to be helpful in managing pain and tenderness areas caused during PT sessions.
“Overexertion—which can come from too much weight gain, lack of conditioning, recent activity with increased intensity, or lifting incorrectly among many factors — produce fatigue and muscle damage & encourages a muscle-building response, making it stronger”. -Shannon Sovndal
“Physical therapy involves targeting specific muscles in your body through exercises, stretches, and other techniques focused exclusively on thorough recovery processes to intentionally stress some priority muscles towards repairing certain issues or preventing future injuries.” -Medical News Today
How Long Does Soreness Last After Physical Therapy?
Typically Lasts 24-48 Hours
Soreness is a common occurrence in physical therapy, and it typically lasts for around 24-48 hours. This soreness can be discomforting, especially if the person undergoing treatment is dealing with chronic pain or has not exercised before.
This soreness is caused by microscopic tears in muscle fibers that occur during exercise. The body responds to these small injuries by sending white blood cells and other substances to repair the damage, which leads to inflammation and soreness.
May Last Up to a Week in Some Cases
In some cases, soreness may last up to a week. When an injury is more severe, or a person is asked to do exercises they have never done before, they might experience increased soreness and fatigue.
“When you are starting out, you are using muscles in ways they haven’t been used, so soreness may be worse,” explains Chelsey Perry, PT, DPT.
Duration Depends on Severity of Injury and Type of Treatment
It’s important to note that the duration of soreness after physical therapy ultimately depends on the severity of the injury as well as the type of treatment being received. Someone experiencing minor discomfort and stiffness from simple therapeutic exercises shouldn’t expect to feel soreness for very long afterward.
Conversely, someone who recently underwent surgery and requires rehabilitation with weight-bearing exercises will express soreness for longer periods due to the intensity of the program.
Consult with Physical Therapist for Personalized Recovery Timeline
If patients find themselves experiencing prolonged soreness following their physical therapy sessions, it’s essential that they speak with their therapist. They will be able to provide a personalized recovery timeline and even suggest some adaptations in the program to minimize soreness.
“During your therapy sessions, always talk with your physical therapist about what you can expect from your treatment plan and any questions or concerns you may have,” says Dr. Perry.
- Soreness after physical therapy typically lasts 24-48 hours, but it might increase if the treatment is more intensive.
- If there are any concerns, it’s vital for patients to speak with their physical therapist regarding modifications and expected recovery times.
Ways to Alleviate Soreness After Physical Therapy
Rest and Recovery
Soreness after a physical therapy session is a common experience. It is expected, especially when undergoing intense exercises with targeted muscles. However, this soreness should not last for more than two days. If it does, it may indicate that the body has undergone too much stress and needs rest.
To help alleviate soreness after physical therapy sessions, rest is essential. The muscle groups that were exercised during the physiotherapy session need time to recover and rebuild. Adequate sleep, hydration, and proper nutrition are critical components of recovery.
In some cases, light-to-moderate exercise can also ease soreness. Gentle stretching, walking, or biking can circulate blood flow which helps promote healing to targeted muscle groups.
Ice or Heat Therapy
The application of ice or heat can help reduce soreness after physical therapy sessions. Ice packs are usually recommended for acute pain in joints or muscles, while heat pads are typically used for chronic pain conditions such as arthritis.
Ice therapy aims to decrease swelling and inflammation, reducing discomfort from injury by constricting blood vessels around the affected area. Generally advised to apply ice for no longer than 20 minutes at a time, several times per day, following physical therapy sessions.
Heat therapy involves dilating blood vessels, increasing blood flow and promoting circulation, leading to muscle relaxation and reduced soreness. Soaking in warm baths or using hot water bottles can have therapeutic benefits for aching muscles post-physical therapy. Heating therapy’s usual recommendation is to spend up half an hour once or twice a day for optimal results.
“The trick to managing your workout-induced soreness lies in finding relief strategies that minimize inflammation and help your muscles recover—and don’t contribute to further muscle damage or soreness,” -Amy Marturana Winderl, C.P.T.
In many cases, physiotherapy’s pain is a sign that the treatment you’re receiving is working. After all, when we exert ourselves during exercise, our muscles feel it just as much as our overall health benefits from the challenge. Practicing recovery techniques such as resting well and utilizing heat or ice therapies can help bring relief to any pain attributable to motion therapy sessions.
When to Seek Medical Attention for Post-Physical Therapy Soreness
Hello world! If you have recently undergone physical therapy, it is completely normal to experience soreness and discomfort after the sessions. However, if the pain persists or seems severe enough to interfere with your day-to-day activities, you must consider seeking medical attention.
Severe Pain or Discomfort
Pain that exists beyond the usual aches and pains that occur after intense workouts could be an indication of some underlying medical condition. It would help if you were mindful of the degree of pain, as there are different types of soreness such as acute, subacute, chronic, and delayed onset muscle soreness. During physical therapy, your therapist should explain what type of pain can exist following treatment and how much discomfort is expected. Severe or persistent pain could be evidence of something more significant, like a muscular strain, ligament sprain or tear, nerve compression syndromes, fractures, tendinopathy or joint injury requiring further workup to identify. You can consult your doctor or physical therapist who performed your initial evaluation to assess the need further actions regarding your symptoms.
Inability to Perform Daily Tasks
If post-physical therapy soreness leaves you feeling unable to perform daily tasks, it’s best to seek medical attention. The inability to perform simple functions indicates a more severe problem that requires immediate attention. Moreover, sometimes physical therapy needs modification in intensity or duration initially advised based on particular movement control issues manifesting after starting patients’ exercises. Your physical therapist may gather additional history to evaluate this information and plan accordingly so they do not cause another issue down the trunk or extremities. Speak up about any significant changes or difficulties that arise from new activities prescribed during physical therapy rehab and discuss early healing signs desired along the way.
Swelling or Inflammation that Persists Beyond Normal Recovery Time
Swelling and inflammation are natural bodily responses to injuries like muscle strains, ligament sprains, and bone fractures usually resolved within a couple of days. However, if these symptoms persist for an extended period after physical therapy sessions, it could be an indication of more significant health issues. It is crucial in this case to seek medical attention to prevent further injury progression. Be mindful also when taking medications recommended by healthcare providers as frequent intake could contribute to developing gastrointestinal ulcers leading to bleeding complications.
Consult with Physician or Physical Therapist for Guidance
If you experience any severe pain, inability to perform daily activities or swelling that persists beyond the few days after starting your physical therapy rehab program, schedule a consultation appointment with your physician or physical therapist who has been treating you. They would be best placed to identify signs that require additional workup before they become chronic problems or affecting other structures requiring more invasive interventions such as surgery eventually. The earlier you address soreness discomfort issues through communication and reassessment, the quicker we can improve soft tissue health, strength, joint mobility to regain our optimal function.
“Early diagnosis saves lives.” -Linda Stirling
Tips for Preventing Soreness After Physical Therapy
Gradually Increase Activity Levels
Physical therapy involves exercises that target specific muscles and joints. During these exercises, you may experience soreness due to muscle tears or inflammation. However, it is important to remember that soreness is a natural part of the recovery process.
If you want to prevent excessive soreness after physical therapy, you should gradually increase your activity levels. Start with simple movements like walking, bending, and stretching before moving onto more complex exercises. Gradual progression will allow your body to adjust to the increasing demands placed on it and reduce the risk of injury and soreness.
You should also avoid overexertion during physical therapy. Take breaks between different exercises and give your body time to rest if you feel soreness or discomfort.
Proper Warm-Up and Cool-Down Procedures
Warming up and cooling down are essential parts of any exercise routine because they prepare your body for activity and help it recover afterward. Proper warm-up procedures can improve circulation and flexibility, while cool-downs can prevent muscle stiffness and reduce soreness.
A good warm-up routine includes five to ten minutes of light aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, or jumping jacks. It will loosen your muscles and increase blood flow to the areas being targeted by physical therapy exercises.
Cool-down procedures, on the other hand, involve slowing down your workout intensity gradually until your heart rate returns to normal. You could end your session with gentle stretches or deep breathing exercises to relax tense muscles and ease joint pain.
Stay Hydrated and Properly Nourished
Hydration plays a critical role in preventing post-exercise soreness. Muscles require water and nutrients to function correctly, and dehydration can cause them to become stiff and sore. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day before and after treatment is essential for keeping your body hydrated.
Nutrition also plays a significant role in muscle recovery. A diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein can help muscles heal faster by providing them with the necessary nutrients they need to recover. Consider adding lean proteins like chicken or salmon into your meals along with fruits and vegetables that provide numerous health benefits.
Consult with Physical Therapist for Personalized Prevention Plan
Every person’s physical therapy needs are unique, requiring personalized treatment programs designed by qualified physical therapists. Your therapist should have an in-depth understanding of what you’re experiencing and will work with you to develop a customized prevention plan for post-treatment soreness specifically tailored to your needs.
“A good physical therapist provides education and resources to their patients to help prevent injuries and pain from returning,” says Bailey Ann Scott, DPT at Duke Sports Medicine Center, NC (source: U.S. News & World Report).
Your personalized prevention plan might include measures such as gentle exercises, stretching routines before and after exercise, ice packs on the affected areas, anti-inflammatory medications, rest days, and other self-care tips that make sense for your individual situation.
If you experience prolonged or excessive soreness after physical therapy, talk to your therapist about it. They will assess you further to determine if there are any underlying conditions causing those pains and find ways to address these problems appropriately.
Some degree of soreness after physical therapy is normal, but there are methods you can use to minimize it. Gradually increasing activity levels, following proper warm-up and cool-down procedures, staying hydrated and properly nourished, and working with your physical therapist to create personalized prevention plans all play an essential role in reducing soreness and promoting faster muscle recovery. By being proactive, you can increase your chances of full recovery from any exercise-induced injuries or conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do some people experience soreness after physical therapy?
Physical therapy involves exercises and movements that target specific muscles, joints, and tissues. These exercises can cause tiny tears in the muscle fibers, leading to soreness and discomfort. Additionally, physical therapists may use manual therapy techniques, such as deep tissue massage or joint mobilization, which can also cause soreness. The soreness is a natural response to the stress placed on the body during physical therapy and is a sign that the body is adapting and becoming stronger.
Is it normal to experience soreness after every physical therapy session?
No, it is not normal to experience soreness after every physical therapy session. While some soreness is expected after physical therapy, it should not be severe or last for an extended period. If you are consistently experiencing soreness after each session, you should discuss this with your physical therapist. They may need to modify your treatment plan or adjust the intensity of your exercises to prevent excessive soreness.
How long should soreness last after physical therapy?
The duration of soreness after physical therapy varies from person to person and depends on the type and intensity of the treatment. Generally, soreness should only last for a day or two after physical therapy. If the soreness persists for more than a few days or is severe, you should contact your physical therapist. They can assess your condition and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.
What can be done to alleviate soreness after physical therapy?
To alleviate soreness after physical therapy, you can try gentle stretching, applying ice or heat to the affected area, taking over-the-counter pain medication, or getting a massage. It is important to discuss any pain management strategies with your physical therapist before attempting them. They can provide guidance on safe and effective ways to alleviate soreness and discomfort.
Can soreness after physical therapy be a sign of progress?
Yes, soreness after physical therapy can be a sign of progress. The soreness indicates that the body is adapting to the stress placed on it during physical therapy and is becoming stronger. However, it is important to distinguish between normal soreness and pain that may indicate an injury or overuse. Your physical therapist can help you understand the difference and adjust your treatment plan accordingly.
When should I be concerned about soreness after physical therapy?
You should be concerned about soreness after physical therapy if it is severe, lasts for an extended period, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as swelling, redness, or loss of mobility. These symptoms may indicate an injury or overuse and should be evaluated by your physical therapist or healthcare provider. Additionally, if you have a history of medical conditions or injuries, you should discuss any concerns with your physical therapist before starting physical therapy.