Understanding the Path to a Full Recovery

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By far the most common question I am asked about recovery from any big injury or surgery is:

How long will this take?

It’s a great question actually.  I’ve been asked it so many times that I decided to put this whiteboard together. Little did I realize back then how useful it would become!

This whiteboard basically illustrates functional recovery over time after a major injury, surgery, or illness. It is remarkably similar for many conditions (knee replacement, back surgery, extended hospitalization etc…).  It also corresponds pretty well to things like functional testing, pain levels, and strength.  If you’ve had a significant medical issue, this little graph can help.  I put this together over a year ago so it has undergone a few revisions.

road to recovery whiteboard



My colleague, UK physiotherapist Adam Meakins took my rugged-looking whiteboard and turned it into something a bit prettier.


Road to recovery v2

Important Disclaimer

There is a ton of variability here depending on a lot of factors.  Keep in mind this is a general trend line and we certainly discuss those factors with each patient.

I use this to help patients understand the ins and outs of their recovery.

For example it’s not uncommon for a person two months out of a knee replacement to still be frustrated that they can’t do certain community activities. After all, two months is a long time. While that is true, this white board points out that it often takes 6-12 months to reach 80-90% after procedure so significant as a joint replacement. Sometimes patients may throw a small fit at this, but they do understand.

You guessed it: This kind of information isn’t in many preoperative brochures.

There are a few reasons this whiteboard is so helpful:

  • It shows that a full recovery often takes a while due to the many factors that go into recovery
  • It illustrates what kinds of activity patients can expect to perform at different stages of their recovery.
  • It stresses the gradual increase inactivity required by the patient
  • It emphasizes the gradual decrease in the role of physicians, therapists, etc…

Essentially it’s a reminder to some patients that, despite their frustration, they are actually making very good progress.  It’s also a beacon of hope for patients who may be struggling.  That’s important because this process doesn’t always go smoothly.  It’s my job as the therapist to keep the ship heading in the right direction no matter how smooth or how rough things get.  It can be done.

So what steps can you take to stay on the best path?

Here are 5 things you can do to either stay on the right path or correct your course if you are lagging behind.

  1. Mind the three P’s of rehabilitation: be Patient, Persistent, and Positive.
  2. Start building healthy habits:  Don’t shoot for the moon by setting a goal of losing 50 pounds.  Instead take action by eating more vegetables.
  3. Learn how to communicate effectively with your doctor or physical therapist about your recovery.
  4. Don’t buy into false hope.Avoid charlatans who push quick fixes.
  5. Get a life.  Your family and social network are a very important part of your recovery.  Nurture those relationships.

This little white board has helped improve the mindset and outcomes for a lot of my patients. Feel free to ask questions or share if it helps.

Until next time!

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2 Responses

  1. Paul
    | Reply

    Well said. “Get a life.”

  2. Patrick
    | Reply

    Great stuff rod

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