Physical Therapy for Zombies and the Undead

Zombies walking.
Zombies suffer from many musculoskeletal impairments that may require physical therapy. Dieter Spears/Getty Images

Your physical therapist is trained to help people with movement problems restore normal functional mobility after injury or illness.  Living people.

But what about zombies and the walking dead?  What if a zombie requires physical therapy?  If you have ever seen a zombie, you may notice significant mobility issues.  So what can your physical therapist do for you if you are a zombie?

Common Movement Impairments in the Zombie Population

Zombies have specific movement limitations that should be addressed with specific rehab interventions.

 This is a list of common impairments zombies often exhibit where physical therapy may be useful.

Warning - before starting any rehab program with (or without) a zombie, it is a good idea to check in with your doctor or mortician to ensure it is safe to do so.

  • Neck posture:  Zombies tend to walk upright with their heads cocked to one side or the other.  This may cause limited neck range of motion (ROM) and neck pain.  Physical therapy for zombies may include specific stretches to help improve cervical ROM, and therapeutic modalities like cervical traction may help improve overall neck mobility.
  • Shoulder position:  Not surprisingly, a significant number of zombies suffer from frozen shoulder.  (The previous statement has not been supported by vigorous scientific research.)  That is because zombies and the walking dead hold their shoulders in unnatural positions, and some have been known to walk with their hands straight out in front of them.  This may cause significant strain on the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder and could lead to shoulder impingement.  Your physical therapist is trained to treat shoulder pain and restore normal shoulder mobility.
  • Back problems:  One glance at a zombie and you'll notice that most walk with a very stiff posture.  Some seem to be slightly flexed forward in the spine, a position which can cause low back pain.  Physical therapy can help by restoring normal ROM to your spine and by strengthening the core muscles that support your spine.  Most zombies would benefit from instruction to attain and maintain proper posture while sitting and walking.
  • Hip mobility issues:  It doesn't take video gait analysis to note that many zombies walk with a very stiff legged gait.  It seems there is very little motion at their hips when they walk.  Physical therapy for hip mobility issues focuses on improving hip ROM with various stretches, and hip strengthening exercises may be done to help normalize gait in the zombie population.  
  • Knee stiffness and gait difficulty:  Zombies seem to walk with both knees locked in a position of full extension.  While this position makes the knee joint very stable, it makes walking very difficult.  Your physical therapist is trained to help improve knee ROM and strength to help restore normal walking ability in all people, including the zombie population.
  • Ankle and foot mobility issues:  Zombies never seem to run.  There just doesn't seem to be enough motion around the ankles and feet to get a solid push off when they try. Plus the limited mobility in their ankles and feet make it difficult to maintain appropriate balance.  Physical therapy for zombies should include exercises to improve ankle ROM and strength, and specific balance exercises with a BAPS board may be necessary to help improve overall walking safety in zombies.

    Bottom Line

    Physical therapists are a skilled group of experts who help people from birth to adult move better and feel better.  Their specific skill set can be applied to many different people with many different conditions.  This includes the walking dead and zombies.

    If you happen to know a zombie who is having difficulty with overall functional mobility, perhaps you should recommend they visit a physical therapist for treatment.  It may be just what is needed to help this population of citizens move better and feel better.

    Brett Sears, PT, is a practicing physical therapist who has never actually provided treatment for zombies.  Zombies aren't real.  (Physical therapists like to have fun, too.)

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