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  • Writer's pictureDr. Stephanie Juffs

Recovery Progress is Not a Straight Line

“Progress is not a straight line.”

This often comes up quite frequently in the context of recovery with my patients. They will be improving at a fairly steady pace and then have a day with a higher pain level, or a regression in terms of ability on a certain day, and think “I’m not getting better”. In reality, this is a small setback in an ongoing process of recovery. Sometimes we forget where we started, and a gentle reminder is extremely helpful: “I know your shoulder hurt after trying ‘xyz’, but 4 weeks ago you couldn’t even lift your arm overhead. You’re still on the path to recovery. I’m glad you tried it out.”

Your progress is not linear.

Reassurance that this is normal is an extraordinarily effective tool in the clinical setting. Please remember there will be days where you feel a bit worse, or can’t quite do the same activity or do it as well, or don’t make any progress. On the other hand, there will be days where you feel like you’ve made tons of headway and things are really clicking. Both are normal in the context of recovery. In fact, sometimes you need to test your capacity out in order to progress. And sometimes that means you’ll feel pain, soreness or less capable on a given day.

Rehabilitation is often described as a haphazard process with positives and negatives that can occur daily.

What is occurring in my body?

When you exercise when your body is in a healthy state, your muscles go through a normal cycle of damage and repair. When they repair, they come back stronger. After injury you will have a decrease in the capacity of your tissues to respond to the same load. Over time, we want to increase the capacity of an injured tissue. We want to do this in a progressive fashion. The progress isn’t always perfect.

I also want to remind you that recovery from injury does not just include your injured tissue’s response to progressive load. Your personal beliefs, expectations, sleep, stress, and nutrition are just some of a number of factories that play a role in recovery. Even pain itself plays a factor! The pain that you have isn’t just a response to changes in tissues (it is multi-factorial) and can even influence capacity itself (a whole topic in itself!)

So what is the takeaway I want you to have from this?

If you have a new skill you’re trying out, or an injury you’re recovering from, your progress won’t always be straight, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t moving forward!

Please reassure yourself that it is normal to have ups and downs. When in doubt, talk to your health care provider. They can reassure you that if you’re following your plan you will continue to make progress, and remind you of how far you’ve come!

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