Advice to Immobilize?

Do you ever get weird patterns in stories you’re hearing? This month, ProActive keeps hearing about dogs wearing goggles and people being advised to immobilize for the sake of recovery. 

In brief, we’re not clear why anyone would call immobilization a conservative course of action without clear indication from imaging. There’re too many side effects of immobilization for us to consider it a conservative choice. In fact, we have three points that make us hesitant to give such sad advice.

Why we don’t usually advise immobilization

First, being instructed to immobilize is terrifying. It evokes priceless porcelain and implies you could deal yourself a Humpty-Dumpty death blow.Image shows Humpty Dumpty attended by egg EMT

Second, it is really uncomfortable. Movement feels good. This is why we all hate flying. Worse, as you’ve all noted in treatments here at PAC, when you immobilize one joint or area, other parts start suffering as they overcompensate for the spot you’re trying to keep still. 

Third, of course every case is different, but immobilization is rarely the right answer. *When immobilization is the answer, imaging reveals that. This is why we routinely refer patients to x-rays and MRIs. (Side note: referring myself for imaging after my big crashes was a tenth the price that my health insurance wanted to charge me for the same imaging). Other than that, even in the case of surgery recovery, even in the case of the elderly, some movement improves the efficacy of laying low and taking it slow.

Dr. C's arm in a cast with a wetsuit over it so that he can get gentle exercise post surgery and not totally immobilize his musclesAfter my wild-bad crashes and surgeries, I was forced into stillness to a degree and for a time frame that I had never come near in my entire life. I’m the guy doing squats in the airplane bathroom line. No arm for nine months? Torture. Immediately post-surgery, I was finding gentle ways to move the parts of my body that could move. Even when that meant buying a dry suit for my cast so I could swim post surgery.

This might sound like a Catch-22, but when you need to take a break to heal, keeping your body (a little) active is often essential to the success of that rest.

 Muscle Science: Muscles Need to Work to Work

Here’s why:

Muscles are like the batteries in your DiscMan back in the day. Leave them unused and it gets messy- and fast! 

Batteries corroding are like muscles being immobilized: they only work when they are working. Muscles need regular exercise to stay strong and healthy. Sports Medicine experts know that you can lose 41% of your strength in just five days. Just like a plant without sunlight, muscles without movement can lose up to 1.5% of their strength every day. 

It’s not just muscles that miss movement. Your joints and connective tissues need it, too. Immobilization can even lead to cartilage and tendon structure damage.

Gentle, Customized Mobilization Instead

The good news? You don’t need to run a marathon! Even small movements like leg lifts, arm circles, and gentle stretches can make a big difference. Ask your doctor for exercises you can do safely while healing.

Our Gentle Mobilization Offerings

Here at ProActive, we offer 20 minute NeuroMuscular Reeducation sessions in which one of our doctors will tailor light exercises appropriate for your stage in healing and practice them with you on our equipment. A doctor’s bespoke rehab exercise plan is an excellent tool for your recovery, but it’s even better to practice them with the doctor watching for form. THis also allows us to recraft your customized plan if any problems arise.

All NeuroMuscular Reeducation appointments come with a month of unlimited access to the rehab tools you see in the SF office: the NormaTec, the Intersegmental Traction Table, and the exercises of the TriFlex.

Of course, as always, you can access those rehab tools for the $50 monthly membership.

Remember: Movement is your friend! By staying active, even during rest, you can help your body get back to work and back to play. Faster.

Dogs in Goggles Are Cooler than Immobilization

Finally, your reward for learning all about gentle activity even in times of recovery! Here’s our favorite dog rockin’ goggles.

dog wearing goggles on a trike with human who is not immobilizing