No pain, no gain? Not necessarily. If you're recovering from injury or surgery, active assistive exercises can help you increase your strength without increasing your pain. Active assistive exercises are a traditional part of rehabilitation programs. Active assistive means that you perform as much of the task as you can, with help to complete the movements. Active assistive exercises may be required for muscle weakness, lack of joint range of motion or surgical precautions that require additional healing prior to stressing your joints and muscles.
If you have difficulty lifting your body part against gravity without any weights after an injury or surgery, active assistive exercises may be the key to getting your strength back. As you become stronger, you will be able to perform more of the task and require less assistance. Active assistive exercises can be done for any joint, and can be done with help from a physical therapist, equipment such as a wand or broomstick or by helping yourself.
Loss of Range of Motion
Joint range of motion can be lost because of injury including sprains, strains and fractures or can be associated with surgical recovery for joint, tendon or ligament procedures. Active assistive range of motion lets you work on strengthening the affected muscle while trying to regain that lost range of motion. For upper extremity exercises, you can often use your other arm to move the affected side. And for some lower extremity joints, you may be able to use your hands or a sheet, but you may also need a helper for some joints or motions.
Surgical precautions are common with surgeries surrounding joints or involving muscles, tendons or ligaments. Procedures such as rotator cuff or ACL repairs need to be kept stable to allow sufficient healing where the tendon or ligament is reattached to the bone. It is important to protect the joint and not create the stress caused by actively using your muscles. Your surgeon and physical therapist will guide you through your program to protect your joints and improve recovery, including when you should start active assistive exercises.
Talk with your surgeon and physical therapist to help create a safe program. Have your physical therapist train your helper to make sure joint positioning is appropriate and all active assisted exercises are done safely. Be alert for any changes in pain or swelling, and call your doctor or physical therapist immediately if anything seems out of the ordinary.