Drexel On the Road to Recovery: The Role of Physical Therapy

Drexel on the Road

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — On May 6th, News 5’s On the Road reporter Drexel Gilbert suffered a serious running injury. Surgery to repair her broken kneecap started the process toward healing. Then, the critical role of physical therapy became evident.

Physical therapy, or PT, began less than than 72 hours after surgery to repair a broken kneecap.

“Pretty much you were petrified,” said physical therapist, Serena Dunham at the Andrews Institute of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Gulf Breeze. “You were very afraid of what I was going to do to you.

Dunham says that’s a common reaction. Both she and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Christopher O’Grady, say the faster you’re in PT, the sooner you’ll get better.

Dr. Christopher O’Grady of O’Grady Orthopedics at Andrews Institute said, “Physical therapy begins more quickly than it did years ago. When I was training, we put you in a cast from the tip of your toe to your hip and then we saw you 6 weeks later. And it did a great job of immobilizing you and you had a healed patella, but you also had a “wooden” leg that was really hard to bend and really atrophied, weak quadriceps.”

The regimen for this particular injury began with quadricep exercises, quadricep stimulation, and then moved to making slight movements with the kneecap and knee. Even though it was painful and scary, those first few sessions, Dunham says it was necessary.

“If you’re scared to move it, and you’re staying stiff, you’re not going to get out of that pain cycle as quickly.”

Each week saw more and more progress. Moving from a wheelchair to walking in a locked brace holding onto railings, to learning how to balance again and walk without holding on, to walking without the brace at all.

Then, after about 10 weeks of regular physical therapy, Dunham added water therapy to the mix, allowing for more difficult exercises and movements without as much pain. The exercises also focused on movements that are involved in daily life.

“Our key role as physical therapists is really is to provide education for the patients because we are the ones who really get to spend time with you. We are the ones who get to tell you it’s okay to hurt a little bit, or no, this pain is not okay. We are the ones who can show you how to go up steps, how to get in and out of bed.”

Dunham added, “Sometimes as you know, we have to be a cheerleader because you get to the point where you are feeling better physically and you’re ready to become active again, but you just can’t yet. And a little depression can set in. It’s important to have that support system to help you continue to push through to full recovery.”

Full recovery, in this case, is expected to come in the next few weeks.

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