Physiotherapy and Exercise

Exercise. Many people’s least favourite part of physiotherapy. Exercise is often the single most important piece of a physiotherapy program, but also the part that is followed the least. As much as exercise is a pain to do right now (sometimes literally a pain!), it will pay off many times over for the future of your injury or your health in general. In this article, we will discuss what exercise is, how it works, and why it is so important.

What is exercise?

Exercise is the act of loading your muscles to move your limbs or your body through space. Loading your muscles, joints, and other tissues causes them to adapt over time to be stronger or better at handing the exercise. These adaptations then translate to your daily life, through:

  • Improving the function of an injured muscle or other tissue
  • Improving joint mobility and stiffness
  • Decreasing the pain of certain movements
  • Huge long-term benefits to your overall health and mental well-being

Physical activity and exercise are very similar, except for one key difference: exercise is used to achieve an effect on the body, whereas physical activity is just body movement in general. Exercise can be many different things – controlled movements under tension or load, structured movement like on a treadmill or exercise bike, or recreational activities like walking, hiking, or sports.

Types of exercise

  • Aerobic: This type of exercise uses repetitive movement with large muscle groups over a longer period of time. Aerobic exercise improves muscle endurance and cardiovascular health. Examples: biking, swimming, running, hiking.
  • Resistance: This type of exercise can include working large or small muscle groups, usually added resistance, at higher intensity for a short amount of time to build muscle strength. Examples: weightlifting, calisthenics.
  • Mobility and balance: These exercises focus on slower movements at lower intensity to improve the flexibility and mobility of different joints, as well as improving sense of balance. Examples: Yoga, stretching, Tai chi.
  • Sports and agility training: These exercises focus on high intensity, high speed movements that help to improve muscle power, speed, and reaction time, all important things for training for a sport. Examples: agility drills, sprints.

Benefits of exercise

  • Cardiovascular: Aerobic exercise improves blood flow, exercises your heart muscle to pump more efficiently, and improves your ability to use the oxygen that the heart pumps through the body. All this leads to greater heart health, which significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Strength: Resistance training improves the strength of muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones in your body. This makes them more resilient against injury, improves your ability to do physical activity, and improves quality of life.
  • Balance: Resistance training and balance exercises reduce your risk of falls and injuries due to falling, a common cause of injury in older adults and in the wintertime.
  • Pain management: Aerobic exercises and mobility exercises can help to condition the body against pain responses with movement.
  • Chronic disease: Aerobic and resistance training can help both preventing and managing many chronic diseases. Exercise is shown to improve metabolic function in the body and help prevent progression of diabetes. Cardiovascular exercise can improve the symptoms of lung diseases. Exercise has been shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and is critical to the recovery from a stroke. It has even been shown to improve symptoms of depression.

Exercising through pain

Often patients do not want to do their exercises because they are painful to do. Physiotherapists do prescribe painful exercises for a reason – these kinds of exercise are working directly on the injured tissue, and they help to condition the body to be comfortable with normal movements. As long as these exercises are done correctly, they are completely safe to do. If you are still concerned about exercising through pain, ask yourself these questions when you are doing the exercises:

  • Is the pain too intense for me to tolerate?
  • Is the pain getting worse and worse the more I do?
  • Does the pain stick around for more than 20-30 minutes after the exercise?
  • Does the pain increase the following day after I do the exercises?

If the answer to these questions is no, then the exercise is safe to do! If you do answer yes to any of these questions, try to reduce the intensity of the exercise and discuss this with your physiotherapist.

What exercise is right for you?

We want to make sure that your home exercise plan is effective at helping you reach your physiotherapy goals. Work with your physiotherapist to determine what kind of exercise would be appropriate for your injury or condition. For instance, if you have a shoulder injury, your physiotherapist might recommend exercises to improve shoulder strength and mobility. If you have knee osteoarthritis, your physiotherapist might add in balance training or low impact aerobic exercise for pain management.

If you are looking to improve your overall health or get the upper hand on an injury, book a session with us today and see what we have to offer you!

About The Author

Jonathan Rankin obtained his MSc in Physiotherapy at McMaster University, and also completed both a BSc and an MSc in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. He has a strong background in exercise, from working as a personal trainer at the University of Ottawa to conducting research on exercise during pregnancy in his master’s degree.


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