Deep Vein Thrombosis & Physical Therapy

Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot develops in the deep veins of your upper and lower legs, an occurrence that can have deadly effects. Those who are immobile for some time, such as after bed rest or failing to move after surgery, are more likely to experience DVT. If you have been diagnosed with condition or even required surgery to remove a blood clot, your physician may recommend physical therapy to improve circulation in your deep veins and prevent another episode.

Physical therapy such as gait training may be needed after deep vein thrombosis. Credit: Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

After Surgery

Following an operation to remove a blood clot in the leg, your physician may recommend physical therapy to improve movement following surgery. A physical therapist may visit you in the hospital to help you start to move the leg in your hospital bed, such as through ankle pumps that help to encourage circulation. You also may benefit from physical therapy after surgery. Your therapist may engage in exercises that include improving range of motion, helping you walk with proper form and engaging in muscle strengthening exercises.

Walking/Compression Therapy

If you experience DVT, your physical therapist may recommend compression therapy to improve your circulation. This involves wearing compression stockings that encourage circulation in your veins. Patients who engage in walking combined with compression therapy have been shown to experience greater outcomes following DVT diagnosis than those who did not, according to a study published in the "Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing" in 2007. However, because blood thinners are often recommended if you have DVT, you may need to take these for 48 to 72 hours before beginning physical therapy walking exercises.

DVT Recognition

In addition to rehabilitating after a DVT episode or surgery, physical therapists also can be adept at recognizing patients with DVT. For example, patients who have undergone joint replacement surgery are at greater risk for DVT. A physical therapist sees patients following surgery and may recognize DVT signs and symptoms, such as swelling or tenderness in the lower leg. If you are undergoing physical therapy after knee or hip surgery and are concerned about your risk for DVT, notify your physical therapist who can perform tests like the clinical decision rule test for the likelihood of developing DVT.

Return to Vigorous Exercise

Before engaging in moderate to vigorous exercise following a DVT diagnosis, your physical therapist should evaluate and advise you based on your individual recovery. Some therapists may be concerned that vigorous activity could cause a blood clot to dislodge and block the lung or heart. While exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight after DVT, you should work with your physical therapist to evaluate the safety of elevating the level at which you exercise.

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