I must admit, the idea that you may need to recover from a physical therapy session itself can sound odd and maybe even a bit worrying. You seek physical therapy to recover from an injury or chronic pain in the first place! Soreness and tenderness in the affected area after your first couple of physical therapy sessions can be a common experience among our patients. Just like the soreness, you may feel after strength training, soreness after a physical therapy massage is fairly similar. Don’t fear, as we have some of the best tips to recover from your first few physical therapy sessions. This guide will explain why you may experience soreness after physical therapy and the best ways to naturally combat that pain.
The first question you may have is, why do we even do hands-on manual therapy?
As many of our current and former patients know, the majority of our treatment is comprised of hands-on manual therapy. Ultimately, hands-on manual therapy involves the pulling, pushing, and manipulation of bones and joints in order to get them into alignment. Additionally, massage therapy helps to circulate oxygen throughout the bloodstream, which can lead to increased feelings of calm and relaxation. The main benefits of hands-on manual therapy include relieving tight muscles, breaking up scar tissue, and increasing flexibility. Those with a limited range of motion can also benefit from manual therapy, helping to increase range of motion and flexibility in joints. All in all, there are many benefits to hands-on manual therapy, especially when combined with stretching and exercises to maintain those benefits.
So, the next question you may have is, why am I so sore after?
Just like with physical exercises, physical therapy sessions can lead to short-term soreness after your first few sessions. Don’t worry, this is a normal part of physical therapy and recovery. Hands-on manual therapy puts a certain amount of healthy stress on your muscles that is actually helpful in recovering. This stress is normal and to be expected, especially if you aren’t used to stretching out those muscles consistently. Although soreness is to be expected, it is crucial to be able to differentiate between muscle soreness and actual pain. If you feel any sharp or lingering aching pain, this could be a sign that you have an injury. If you are experiencing pain rather than soreness after a physical therapy session makes sure to tell your physical therapist at your next appointment.
Now that we have established why hands-on manual therapy is beneficial and why soreness can be a common side-effect of this treatment, we will give you the best tips to recover quickly.
First, and most importantly—drink a lot of water! The massage technique is actually a dehydrating process. The kneading and the overall process of loosening muscles naturally release fluid. This fluid will go out of the muscles, into your circulatory system, and then to your kidneys. This will result in increased urination, causing dehydration. Thus, it is very important to hydrate after physical therapy in order to replenish the water that was lost. Bring some water with you to have after your physical therapy session and remember to keep drinking throughout the day.
Next, physical therapy massage will naturally lead to micro-inflammation in the tissues that were worked on. In order to combat this inflammation, there are several things you can do—ice the area, enjoy a meal filled with anti-inflammatory ingredients, or take an Epsom salt bath. In terms of icing, it is best to apply ice to the area in short increments. We recommend that you only ice the affected area for a maximum of 15 to 20 minutes. You can ice as much as you feel necessary, but 20 minutes is the most you should do in a single session. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be bad. The same goes for icing, too much time can actually be harmful. After about twenty minutes, the blood vessels will begin to widen, which can allow for more inflammation.
Another way to fight the short-term inflammation that can occur after a physical therapy session is through anti-inflammatory foods. This is a great way to naturally and nutritiously alleviate any lingering inflammation. We recommend that you eat a healthy meal after your sessions filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, many of which are anti-inflammatory. Here is a list of of our favorite foods that have anti-inflammatory and healing properties:
You can also check out this article, Anti-Inflammatories: Extinguishing the Fire, that we wrote all about anti-inflammatory foods. It even includes a vegetable curry recipe with some of these delicious foods!
Epsom salt baths can also be an effective and relaxing method to help reduce inflammation and soreness. Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate, which is a chemical compound comprised of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. These elements, when combined with hot water in a bath, have healing properties. Research has shown that Epsom salt can help to relieve muscle stress and also contributes to reducing inflammation. Additionally, Epsom salt baths can help to relieve stress by providing a quiet, peaceful environment. After your next appointment tries an Epsom salt bath with warm water and enjoy the benefits of both physical and mental relaxation.
Lastly, make sure to keep up with the exercises that we do at the end of your physical therapy sessions. These exercises will help to keep your muscles stretched out and loose as you recover. Doing these exercises on a daily basis will make the next physical therapy sessions easier on your body, as your muscles will not be so tight when you come in. In addition to keeping your muscles stretched, the stretches and exercises we give out can also help to improve posture, strengthen muscles, increase range of motion, and prevent soreness after hands-on manual therapy. Aim to do the exercises we give you at least once a day, especially if you feel tightness in the affected area. Find a way to put these exercises into your routine, whether its doing them when you wake up first thing in the morning or if you do them before your work out.