Thanks to today’s guest blogger, Neal Church, PT
As a physical therapist, I love a challenge. One of my most formidable challenges is patients with tibial plateau fractures. Tibial plateau fractures are one of the most frustrating injuries for patients because it is such a long-drawn-out process. These fractures occur at the top of the tibia, or shin bone, which is a primary weight-bearing surface. Tibial plateau fractures are treated differently than fractures of the tibial shaft. When treating tibial plateau fractures, cartilage covers the top of the tibial plateau, which must be protected after these injuries in order to prevent arthritis. If the fracture is displaced, or isn’t lined up perfectly, the patient usually will need an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF). This means the surgeon will open the knee and use hardware, i.e., screw and plates, to hold the fractured bone in place. Whether displaced or non-displaced, the patient is usually non-weight bearing for an extended period of time, which lasts as long as three months. Additionally, if the meniscus is involved, the physician may immobilize the patient for an extended period of time as well. All of this adds up to a very stiff knee!
Regaining range of motion (ROM) is at the top of the list in rehab and does not come easily. Performing patellar joint mobilizations as soon as possible and establishing a solid home exercise program is vital. Gait training is always a part of the patient’s plan of care which progresses the patient from using a walker, to a cane, to independently ambulating without an assisted device. The gait training emphasizes heal strike, which is why straightening the knee is so crucial. Flexion, or bending the knee, can also be quite challenging and can make it difficult for the patient to go down steps, stand up from a sitting position, tie shoes and dress. Physical therapy visits are sometimes limited and there is much to be done while the patient is in the clinic. Utilizing time outside the clinic to regain ROM is crucial. A great modality that can be used at home is a Dynasplint. Dynasplint Knee Systems stretch the patient into extension or flexion and are available for every size patient. Remember, you can always wait to start strengthening, but you can’t wait to regain ROM. The longer you wait to regain ROM , the harder it will be.
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