Exercise Therapies for Acute Medical Conditions

Regular moderate aerobic exercise boosts the immune system so acute medical conditions such as viral and respiratory tract illnesses can be warded off. However, if an individual is already suffering from a respiratory tract infection (or any other type of infection, including cystitis or a skin infection), she should abstain from exercising. Energetic exercise can encourage an infection to spread through the bloodstream to other organs. The individual should take a break from her exercise routine until her temperature returns to normal and other symptoms, such as aching muscles, nausea, sore throat and blocked nose, improve.

Injuries caused by accidents or during sport – including fractured limbs, joint disorders and pulled tendons, muscles and ligaments – can be helped by therapeutic exercise or remedial exercises. However, exercise should be performed with great caution and under expert guidance, usually from an experienced physiotherapist.

EXERCISE THERAPIES

Although some health problems can be alleviated by a programme of ordinary aerobic and muscular exercise and stretching, others require special treatment. A class of therapies, described loosely as ‘exercise therapies’ may be helpful in helping a patient recover from an injury or a long-term illness. Such therapies include physiotherapy, massage therapy, the Alexander technique and eurythmy.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapists are trained experts who specialize in promoting healing using remedial exercises and a range of other therapeutic exercise treatments; these include massage, stretching, mobilization and manipulation techniques, electrical stimulation and heat therapy. They can often help a patient to recover from an acute condition, such as a bone fracture or physical problems following childbirth. In such cases, the remedial exercise is often specifically directed at the area surrounding the site of the injury. For example, a patient who has a broken elbow is likely to be prescribed exercises that will strengthen the triceps muscle and the other muscles that surround the joint. This encourages the arm to straighten and regain its full range of movement.

Physiotherapists also work with people suffering from congenital and other long-term conditions – helping a child with cerebral palsy to improve muscle control and balance, for example; those who have had chest, abdominal or gynaecological surgery; and patients who have lost body parts as a result of cancer surgery or major accidental injury. They can also help with less serious long-term conditions, such as RSI.

Some physiotherapists specialize in sports injury. A sports physiotherapist can help an individual in a number of ways -showing her how to work around an injury; analysing an injury to see whether the root cause might be an imbalance in the relative strength of limbs or muscle groups then suggesting strengthening exercises for the weaker limbs or muscle groups; and advising on adapting technique to prevent future injuries.

Massage therapy

From the Greek massein, meaning ‘to knead’, massage is a touch therapy that has been used for thousands of years. Massage methods are now an important element of physiotherapy treatment, and the technique is increasingly used as a remedial therapy for a wide variety of health problems and to relieve pain and tension.

Western forms of massage are largely based on the Swedish massage techniques developed by Swedish gymnast Per Henrik Ling in the late 19th century. The massage therapist uses her hands to manipulate the patient’s soft tissues (muscles and ligaments) with kneading, stroking and pressing techniques. Eastern massage techniques include Reiki (Japanese touch therapy), Tuina (Chinese deep massage) and Marma (Indian pressing of vital points). These techniques, which can be more vigorous than Western techniques, focus on clearing energy blockages so that energy flows freely around the body. New forms of massage therapy include reflexology, Shiatsu, polarity therapy, Rolfing and kinesiology.

It is possible for an individual to use self-massage to relieve some complaints. Massaging the scalp, for example, can help relieve a tension headache.

Massage reduces tension, stimulates the circulation of the blood and the elimination of waste products, aids the healing of muscle and other soft-tissue injuries and promotes pain relief by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. It can help to restore strength and mobility after injury and to treat circulatory disorders such as varicose veins, arthritis (unless in acute inflammation stage), hypertension, training injuries, chronic pain, RSI, and tension in the head, neck and shoulders.

Massage is not recommended for certain health problems; these include serious acute medical conditions such as heart conditions, acute inflammatory arthritis, phlebitis (inflammation of the veins), thrombosis (blood clots), fever, inflammation and skin infections. It is not recommended for women in the first trimester of pregnancy. An individual should ask her doctor to recommend a trained massage therapist or physiotherapist. This is particularly important when seeking treatment for a back problem or varicose veins.

Alexander technique

The Alexander technique is a form of re-education, in which the pupil becomes more aware of her standing, sitting and moving posture and is taught techniques that can be applied to everyday activities.

The technique can relieve many musculo-skeletal disorders, particularly neck and back pain, sciatica (a pinched nerve at the base of the spine) and joint conditions such as arthritis. It is also beneficial as a treatment for chronic migraine, RSI and stress-related conditions. The technique can be used as part of a rehabilitation programme after accidents and injury and to help prevent the recurrence of a problem.

Feldenkrais method

Like the Alexander technique, with which it has much in common, the Feldenkrais system of remedial exercises facilitates awareness of movement. It is based on two main principles: that movement should be limited by the skeletal structure, not by the musculature; and that all movement should be graceful and efficient.

The therapeutic value of the Feldenkrais method lies in tackling the bodily imbalances that often underlie musculoskeletal problems. It can be useful to those with musculoskeletal injuries, neuromuscular diseases and emotional problems.

Eurythmy

Created by the Austrian philosopher, artist and scientist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), eurythmy is the art of meaningful movement, sometimes called visible speech. Eurythmic exercises aim to make the body an instrument for revealing the rhythms and tones of speech and music through movement. Eurythmy has helped people with problems as diverse as epilepsy and Down’s syndrome, by working on body awareness, coordination, rhythm and concentration.