Injury Rehabilitation - Why the Path to Recovery Isn't Linear

Physical Health

Young women sitting on her couch struggling with mental health due to her ongoing injury rehabilitation

Recovering from an injury is frustrating for many people. Some would say it’s like being on a rollercoaster ride with lows and highs and never knowing what’s around the corner. For most people, it’s the first major injury they’ve experienced. Like most things we experience for the first time, we don’t know what to expect and that can be part of the difficulty. Often people’s expectation of how their injury rehabilitation will go is very different to what occurs. It’s normal to expect that every day you’ll feel a little better and stronger than the day before but that’s rarely the case. Here’s why.


Physical Improvements

In the early days of a serious injury, a person’s pain may start to subside, they might gain some more mobility and they can picture themselves getting back to their pre-injury life. 

But then there will be days where they don’t notice any improvement. They might be doing all their exercises and following doctor’s advice to the letter but their rehabilitation stalls. Our bodies aren’t programmed to repair themselves in the same increments on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Some days and weeks will be better than others.

Sometimes medications don’t work as well as they did or an exercise needs adjusting because the body is no longer benefiting from it. Every injured person’s body and every injury is different, so it can be a case of trial and error for the rehabilitation team to find out how your body responds to different treatments. 

An injury in one part of the body can cause a ripple effect to other body parts. When we injure a limb or one side of the body, we use the other side more to help move around and to compensate for the injured side. Everyday living can place stress and injure another body part that isn’t used to that activity.

Setbacks in Recovery

Often injured workers feel they’ve recovered enough that they can return to work. But it’s common to find that a day at work is much harder on the body than a day spent at home. They may be exhausted by the commute and then try to do a full day working at the same pace they did pre-injury. After a couple of days they’re exhausted or have caused a setback in their recovery because they’ve overdone it.

If they had made plans to start back at work doing shorter days or spoken to their manager about doing lighter duties before their return, they may not have experienced the setback and needed to take more time off work to recover before returning a second time.

Impact on Mental Health

What many people don’t realise is the devastating impact a serious injury can have on their mental health. Without realising, all their focus is on the physical injury and getting back to their normal life, so they don’t notice the decline in their mental health until it’s significant.


Why Depression Occurs During Injury Rehabilitation

Most people reduce their usual level of activity following an injury. Reduction in movement impacts us in many ways; it can negatively impact our sleep and reduces the amount of endorphins we produce. Endorphins are important as they reduce the perception of pain and they create happier feelings.  

As an injury drags on and a person realises they aren’t bouncing back to their old self, the depression can quickly set in. A number of factors can contribute to a person’s rehabilitation. People who are used to going to work every day can suffer loneliness and boredom when they’re at home by themselves unable to do much. Some workers lose some of their self worth. Instead of going to work and contributing to the organisation, they’re sitting at home recovering. 

When injury rehabilitation doesn’t go as well as they hoped, a person can struggle with depression. The lack of mobility may make socialising difficult so they’re isolated at home or they may not be able to exercise as they once did. People often have a timeframe in mind for being back to full health and when their recovery stalls, so does their mental health.


Suffering from Anxiety 

Anxiety can also be a problem for some people recovering from a serious injury. They worry about doing some tasks that may cause a setback or new injury. Once a person has been away from work for an extended time, they may worry that they won’t remember how to do the job or won’t be physically capable. For some workers, they feel guilty about taking time off work to recover while their colleagues pick up their workload.


Link Between Mental and Physical Health

Unfortunately, when mental health suffers a patient’s physical health can too. Depression can make it hard for some patients to complete their rehab exercises because of apathy and because the depression has increased their perception of pain making it feel like they might be harming themselves. On some days they may not feel like leaving the house so they’ll cancel a doctor or physio appointment. Rather than being motivated to contribute to the household chores, they let others do them or they let the house go.

Injury rehabilitation takes patience and commitment to see results but the road is often bumpy. Expect the unexpected. Pay attention to your mental health and your physical health will benefit. 

To help with the recovery process, PeopleSense by Altius Group works alongside rehabilitation providers with our Injury Management services, covering both mental and physical recovery to help employees get back on track. For more information call us on 1800 258 487 or get in contact online.

Category: Physical Health