How does physical therapy help after a cast comes off?

The adult human body is made up of 206 bones. (We’re born with 270, but over time, as we grow, some fuse to give us 206 around the time we turn 30.) Unfortunately, many of those can break or fracture, leading to a cast in order to heal. So what happens after the cast is removed? What is necessary in order to return to normal activity?

A girl rests on a stroller with a cast on her left leg from thigh to toe and on her right leg around her hip and upper thigh. Both are wrapped in bright pink gauze.

A variety of factors will affect the length of time needed to heal, as well as how physical therapy will help you regain your pre-injury range of motion and level of activity.

The American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA, points out that there are several levels of bone fractures. The simplest is defined as a non-displaced fracture. This means that the bone may be broken, but the pieces are still properly aligned within the body.

From there, more complex fractures range from fractures that only include one break but are not properly aligned (displaced fractures), to a bone having multiple fractures, the fracture(s) affecting the soft tissue around the break, or even the fracture piercing the skin. The more complex the fracture, the longer it will take for the bone to heal, which will mean activity will be curtailed for a longer time, increasing the possibility that physical therapy will be necessary to regain function.

Overweight woman smiles and shows off her cast and bandages on her right wrist and forearm.

Another factor is where your fracture has occurred. For example, with a wrist or elbow fracture, it may be easy to walk around, but you will most likely have to limit the use of your wrist and arm. Your physical therapist can be of great help even while your arm is still in a cast, adapting your exercise regimen to remove any stress to the affected bones.

After the cast is removed, says the APTA, it’s normal to have some pain and stiffness in the affected area. Physical therapy can help you to regain strength and range of motion, allowing you to return to your previous level of activity.

Lower extremity injuries, i.e., fractures below the belt, are more difficult to come back from — when you have a cast on your leg or even a walking boot, your mobility is more limited. Once you have been fitted with your cast, your physical therapist can teach you how best to move around given the limitations of your cast.

A female physical therapist in camoflage fatigues sets the lower leg of a man in a walking boot while he is sitting on a medical table. They are in a large treatment room.

When the bone is fully healed and the cast is removed, your PT will work with you to start putting weight on the affected leg, building up to a regular walking gait with your full weight on both legs. Physical therapy will include a strengthening regimen to regain any muscle that was lost while the bone was healing. Eventually, this will lead to a release from PT and a return to your pre-injury levels of activity.

Keep in mind that every fracture and every patient is different. Be sure to follow the directions from your physician and physical therapist carefully in order to recuperate safely. And if you have any pain for an extended period of time, whether while in a cast or after it has been removed, talk to your doctor about what might be the cause. And if you need to find a physical therapist for help recuperating from a fracture,contact your nearest Physiquality location; find it using our locator below.

American Physical Therapy Association.

“Post-surgery cast” by Minarae is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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