Mental health, and its relationship to orthopedic injuries, is a complex area of medicine that can be difficult to diagnose and treat. Chronic disorders, such as osteoarthritis and low back pain, can increase strains on your mental health.
Symptoms can include varying degrees of stress, anxiety, and depression. It is not unusual for common injuries to trigger psychological changes, especially if your daily routine or quality of life is impacted negatively in the long term.
Who is at Risk?
While mental health disorders commonly manifest in individuals battling chronic pain conditions, they can also occur in individuals experiencing pain for the first time in their lives. At Holy Name's Center for Physical Rehabilitation, common scenarios include:
- A high school athlete who sustains a season-ending injury in the beginning of his or her senior year
- A mother of three children experiencing acute low back pain that affects her ability to work and care for her children
- An elderly gentleman who suffers a devastating fall at home and is now fearful of falling again
Multiply any of these functional impairments by a couple of months or years, and you can begin to see how a once unassuming physical injury can transform into a complex web of emotional impairments.
Prevention is Key
Restoring normal function as quickly, yet safely as possible is one of the most important techniques to preserving mental health. The longer it takes you to return to your normal, daily functions, the more likely you are to become anxious and depressed. Physical therapists are excellent at prescribing safe, evidence-based exercises at all stages of the healing process. While early detection and treatment are critical, significant improvements can also occur when properly addressing long-term conditions.
Physical therapists are also highly skilled at creating attainable goals for you. This can help you stay motivated throughout your healing process, and give you the comfort of knowing you are heading in the right direction. If you are not a candidate for physical therapy, or you need the professional care of multiple practitioners, your therapist will refer you to the most appropriate healthcare provider. This step is vital in the prevention of misdiagnosing and/or mistreating a patient.
Exercising Improves Mental Health
Research has shown that exercise is incredibly effective at improving mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. Exercise has also been shown to improve cognition and battle the effects of dementia. Try walking or exercising at least 30 minutes per day.
Moderate to vigorous activities demonstrate the greatest effect on both physical and mental qualities in an individual. However, do not be discouraged if you have to modify your activity and start your progress with very simple movements and exercises. It is better to perform 1-2 minutes of gentle exercise as opposed to nothing at all.
If you are new to exercising, follow the Physical Therapy Core Training and Progressions to create a solid base in your body. For a stress-reducing program, try A Complete Routine for Restoration and Recovery.
A Team Effort
If you believe your pain is affecting your function, or perhaps affecting your happiness, please do not hesitate sharing your concerns with any one of your healthcare providers. If they cannot help you directly, they would be more than happy to send you to the right provider. A collaborative effort is critical when attempting to heal these complex conditions. However, while it is wise to have an experienced team of professionals supporting you, always remember that you are the most important member on the team.
Whether you are experiencing physical discomfort, emotional distress, or a combination of the two – your pain is real. Recognizing the existence of these relationships is the first step of your recovery.
It is never too late to make a significant change in your life.
*Those experiencing severe mental health conditions should seek the clinical expertise of an appropriate healthcare provider.
Christopher J. Cordero, PT, DPT, OCS, is a physical therapist and the Coordinator of Clinical Development and Education at HNH Fitness in Oradell, NJ. Dr. Cordero is also a board-certified specialist in orthopedic physical therapy by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Dr. Cordero treats patients and athletes of all ages and abilities with a focus on implementing evidence-based injury prevention techniques and developing proper body mechanics. He finds passion in the clinical and educational aspects of physical therapy, and believes in the application of manual orthopedic techniques and exercise prescription to help patients regain function in their lives.
Dr. Cordero can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call to schedule an appointment at 201-265-1076.
HNH Fitness | 514 Kinderkamack Road | Oradell, NJ | 07649